This year’s Cornerstone production will address the difficulties of mental illness through the ACU Department of Theatre’s performance of the musical “Next to Normal.”
Chair of the theatre department, Adam Hester saw the play on Broadway three times and said he knew he wanted to produce it at ACU because of its inherent truth and emotion.
“I love how the play tries to capture the tender, insightful, funny and heart-breaking portrayal of a family trying bravely to come to terms with life,” he said. “It reveals truths we all know but maybe haven’t really admitted in our desperate attempts to be normal.”
The musical has won a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony Awards with its realistic depiction of the struggles of mental illness.
“The play draws back the curtain hiding our fears and secrets about depression, bipolar disorder and mental illness,” Hester said.
Alexandra Bonneau, senior musical theater major from Dallas, will play the lead role of Diana Goodman in the production. Goodman suffers from bipolar depression, creating most of the musical’s conflict and message.
“The show is a story about how that affects her family and how it affects her,” she said. “It’s all about the relationships.”
The family dynamic is a prominent aspect in the musical, Bonneau said.
“I think that’s largely a theme that’s present at ACU,” she said. “We’re really focused on community and how we share spirituality – we’re a family, we’re special in that way. On a smaller scale, that’s the same thing here – they [the Goodmans] are a special family.”
The musical brings up questions of morality, Bonneau said – acting selfishly or selflessly, how far to go to keep a family together, all in the context of Goodman’s condition and circumstances.
Due to the weight of its subject matter, “Next to Normal” has the potential to cause some controversy on campus.
“We have advised that the play is appropriate for patrons 16 years and older,” Hester said. “That is a conservative advisement, but it’s wise for people to understand that the play, although full of hope and humor, deals with very challenging and painful issues that may be too difficult for younger people.”
Bonneau said she is now prepared for potential controversy.
“At first I was scared, and I’m not now,” she said. “I know there’s always going to be controversy with content, with language – with what we’re willing to put on the stage in a Christian environment.”
Bonneau said she thought it was important to produce relevant, true-to-life shows, “whether we like it or not.”
“As Christian artists, we can explore this content with Christian understanding – and we can see the light and truth in the story,” she said. “God’s Word is rooted in truth, and where there is truth, there is God – and I think God is very present in this musical. I hope that our audiences see that too.”
After every performance, the audience will have the opportunity to engage with guest speakers over the play’s content and importance in a discussion.
“I encourage the audience to stay for the Talkbacks if they do have questions or concerns,” Bonneau said. “I would like to hear them voiced, because I think this show is going to start conversation.”
“Next to Normal” opens Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. and will play every night through Nov. 24. Tickets are $15 and are available online at acu.edu/theatre, by calling 325-674-2787, or at the Box Office in the Williams Performing Arts Center 1 – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.