Interview: Next to Normal (a musical challenging "normal") playing at Star Theatre Company
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, October 27, 2022
How do we cope with secrets and tragedy? What is normal? These questions and more are at the heart of Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s musical Next to Normal, running through October 30 at Star Theatre Company in Oceanside.
Actor Keri Miller, who plays Diana, shared that finding a balance between “raw authenticity and being careful not to portray Diana as a caricature” was really important to her. “These types of mental illness episodes are real, raw and scary, and I hope to articulate them as accurately as possible,” she explained. Keri added that she relates to the character in very real ways because they both “want to “hold it all together and live in a truthful way at the same time” and sometimes those two goals have a hard time coexisting.
In an interesting twist, Keri plays opposite her real-life husband Chris Miller as Dan. I asked them about how this dynamic has been impactful to them, and Keri was quick to respond: “All the love, care, heartache, frustration and exhaustion we portray comes from real places,” reflecting on their relationship and how it affects their performances. “Real, lasting love takes blood, sweat, tears, endurance, patience, forgiveness and care.”
Chris added: "Getting to work opposite Keri is a real privilege here. The surface behaviors in Dan and Diana's marriage are very normal and comfortable, so our natural behavior gives us a great baseline of how to interact before any of the mental issues start to visible kick in. It's also been amazing to have her as a resource for developing Dan, since in real life I struggle with mental illness and Keri's been steadfastly supportive; she's been able to articulate some of the nuances of being in Dan's shoes that I couldn't have grasped alone. Plus, having your actual partner be there on stage delivering devastating lines makes it very easy to access the powerful feelings required. As long as we don't take it home (which we don't)!" In that way, these intangibles, rooted in real life, become fodder for relationship building on the stage.
Keri hopes that, at the end of this, audience members know it’s “OK to not be OK,” and Chris encourages audiences to know that "they are not alone, that help is out there, and that it's not shameful to not be okay." In the wake of the pandemic and the global trauma and disruption that we are all recovering from, after all, Keri emphasizes, we can “normalize saying out loud that something bothers us, haunts us, hurts us. Let’s take responsibility for the way our actions affect others, and for articulating what we need from our fellow humans.”
Next to Normal runs at Oceanside’s Star Theatre through October 30. Tickets are available at startheatreco.com.