Kerns: ‘Next to Normal’ a play dealing with mental illness

A bit of this and a bit of that … with a reminder that 42 artists and eight studios are participating in the 21st annual Take in the Local Color! Lubbock’s Artist Studio Tour. Final hours are noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. The yearly event gives audiences a unique opportunity to observe artists in working environments, many of which are in private homes. Five to six artists generally exhibit, and sell, art in each location. Full details are at


Only a day away: One of my favorite musicals, “Next to Normal,” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and also at 2 p.m. Nov. 19, at the Texas Tech Maedgen Laboratory Theatre (west entrance), 2812 18th St. between Boston and Flint Avenues.

It became one of my favorite musicals when I saw the May 2012 production by Hub Theatre Group at LHUCA’s Firehouse Theatre, with Bob Chanda directing a local staging of the powerful, Pulitzer Prize-winning musical drama dealing with bi-polar disease.

Book and lyrics are by Brian Yorkey; music is by Tom Kitt. Stage direction is by Katie Hahn, a third year master of fine arts performance and pedagogy student.

Hahn mentioned in a press release, “With psychiatrists still discovering endless intricacies of mental illness, it is important to do a piece that explores the ripple effects of a family wading through the unknowns of bipolar disorder. There are not many musicals that address issues like the ones that the Goodmans face in ‘Next to Normal.’

“But I think the pain, humor and love of this deeply human story lend themselves to this groundbreaking piece of musical theater.”

In a portion of my 2012 review, I wrote:

“Playwrights Yorkey and Kitt refuse to sugarcoat Diana’s relationship with her husband, Dan, and daughter Natalie. They also musically explore the manner in which modern science uses ‘meds’ as coping mechanisms and suggests surgery with percentages.

“There are many heartbreaking highlights, one being Diana’s defiant refusal to sign a surgical agreement, singing ‘Didn’t I See This Movie’ but worried that she may already be trapped within her own cuckoo’s nest.

“Stage design in the intimate theater is outstanding, allowing space between characters when needed. More than once, characters are treated like a prize in a tug-of-war.

“Real-life married couple Bob and Paula Chanda star as dysfunctional husband and wife Dan and Diana, respectively. Each is believable. But Paula, especially, gives a commanding performance as a woman whose mind refuses to cope with tragedy.

“The playwrights take a huge risk, actually introducing someone who resides in Diana’s mind while, simultaneously, refusing to make him visible to her husband and daughter.

“Diana is dead serious when she sings in rocking fashion ‘“You Don’t Know’ to Dan.

This is a play about mental illness, and the most eerie, if not most frightening, moment arrives when Stephen Velasquez (as Gabe) sings ‘I’m Alive.’”

Reserved seats for the Tech Lab production are $10 for the general public and $5 for all students with valid IDs. Free student rush tickets are available on a limited basis to Tech students.

Call 742-3603 for reservations and information.

More on stage: BurkTech Players — an ensemble of artists from the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research and the Texas Tech School of Theatre and Dance — will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 19 at the Escondido Theatre, in the basement of the Tech Student Union Building, 2625 15th St. on campus.

The troupe will perform two short plays (“Time Flies” and “Captive Audience,” by David Ives), two devised works (“Dating Is Hard,” by Michelle Benson, and “Puzzle” by Nate Hall), and an original dance piece.

Free tickets can be reserved by calling the Tech School of Theatre and Dance box office at 742-3603.

And a sure thing, on screen: Academy Award-winning 1942 romantic drama “Casablanca,” one of history’s best written and most quoted films, will celebrate its 75th anniversary with screenings at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday and Wednesday at Movies 16, 5721 58th St.

Michael Curtiz directed a screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. The movie stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Heinreid, with supporting actors Claude Rains, Conrad Veldt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Dooley Wilson. Set during World War II, the film finds the bitter Rick (Bogart) forced to choose between love and helping a Czech Resistance leader escape German-controlled Casablanca.

The ticket price at 2 p.m. is $6.77 for the general public age 12 and older, and $6.22 for children age 11 and younger and seniors age 62 and older. The 7 p.m. ticket price is $8.93 for the general public age 12 and older, and $6.22 for children age 11 and younger and seniors age 62 and older. Prices include tax.

Call 796-2804 for more information.

Chat about movies, theater, music, dance and visual arts at my blog playBill by Kerns at — or check out Twitter at AJ_WilliamKerns.

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