We rediscovered our mutual love of live theater during a trip to New York for our 20th anniversary. Over the next eight years we indulged ourselves with some of the best of it in New York and the Berkshires. On Oct 24, 2009 we saw “next to normal“ at the Booth Theater. I know this because she kept all the ticket stubs from all the shows we saw neatly organized in a little album. It turned out to be the last musical we saw on Broadway.
Barbara was a big believer in the power of art, especially musical theater, to get across complicated and difficult subjects. “next to normal” really drove that home. It is the single most powerful piece I’ve ever seen on stage. And this is from a guy looking at a book full of ticket stubs from 128 shows. Like so many other things in her life, she managed to go out on a high note, even though we had no idea the curtain was coming down.
The show is about a family torn apart by the mother’s mental illness. It has songs like “My Psychopharmachologist and I” and “Wish I Were Here”- a song about electro-convulsive therapy. It is a brilliant piece of work, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in drama. The mental illness elements were what most of the critics and audiences focused on. Alice Ripley won the Tony for playing the mother, Diana, and she clearly identified that at it’s core the show was about grief.
A principal character is Diana’s eighteen year old son Gabe- but Gabe died as an infant. Diana’s delusions of a grown Gabe are more real to her than her living daughter Natalie. All the efforts to banish the delusions fail because they don’t address the root cause of Diana’s illness: unresolved grief over Gabe’s death. As the show unfolds, it becomes clear that the denial to face the grief really stems from her husband Dan, not Diana herself. Only when Diana moves out to resolve her problems on her own and Dan sees the delusion of Gabe himself does he finally face his grief.
I originally thought about this show because of the ‘guy failing to grieve causing problems later’ angle. Widowers are rather notorious for trying to move on too fast and leaving wreckage in their wake. I’m determined not to be one of those guys. That’s what this blog is all about.
As so often I find on this journey, though, something unexpected and kind of wonderful turned up when I started looking deeper. I listened to the cast recording for the first time in a long while as I was drafting this post. The final song in the show is called “Light”. Go ahead and listen to it, all of it. It’s worth the time, I’ll wait.
Amazing, isn’t it? I think I just found my anthem for the next year.
Lyrics by Brian Yorkey(Natalie)
We need some light.
First of all, we need some light.
You can’t sit here in the dark,
And all alone It’s a sorry sight. It’s just you and me.
We’ll live. You’ll see.
Day after day…
Wishing all our cares away…
Trying to fight the things we feel…
But some hurts never heal. Some ghosts are never gone, But we go on.
We still go on. And you find some way to survive.
And you find out you don’t have to be happy at all
to be happy you’re alive. (Natalie)
Day after day,
Give me clouds, and rain and gray.
Give me pain, if that’s what’s real- (D. Madden and Natalie) It’s the price we pay to feel. (Dr. Madden and Diana)
The price of love is loss (Dan)
But still we pay (Dan and Dr. Madden)
We love anyway. (Gabe)
And when the night has finally gone,
And when we see the new day dawn,
We’ll wonder how we wandered for so long, so blind.
The wasted world we thought we knew-
The light will make it look brand new. (All)
So let it…
let it… Shine! Shine! Shine! Day after day…
We’ll find the will to find our way,
Knowing that the darkest sky Will someday see the sun- (Dan)
When our long night is done, There will be light… (Dan & Diana & Natalie) There will be light. (All)
When we open up our lives,
Sons and daughters, husbands, wives-
And fight that fight… There will be light. There will be light…
There will be light…
There will be light!
That was the last song she heard in a Broadway house. Like everything I found on her iPod favorites, it’s upbeat. Like her life, it’s upbeat in the face of loss. Like I said, it’s my new theme song.
I still have a long night ahead of me. It’s only been twelve weeks. But last week, just as I thought I was auguring in for a bad downturn, my friends somewhat miraculously stepped in and turned me around. Dawn may be a long way off, but it feels like the clouds have parted and I can look up see the stars, and every once in a while catch a glimpse of moonlight.