I think that the topic of mental illness is something that many individuals can relate to in this day and age. Though there are works that contain characters with mental illness or ones that we can speculate have a mental illness (ex. King Lear, Ophelia, or the theory that Ariel from The Little Mermaid is a hoarder) they are “hidden” or there doesn’t seem to be much focus on that aspect of them. As a mentally ill individual, I can appreciate that there is a musical about mental illness, specifically Bipolar Disorder. While I think that some areas were crafted well, others come across as problematic.
The portrayal of Diana as an ordinary suburban female, mother, and wife is one of the areas that I feel was well crafted and stuck out to me the most. She’s not some tortured artist or someone with a massively traumatic upbringing, she could be anyone and in portraying her this way I think that it allows audience members to relate and empathize. It also is a much more accurate representation in that sense and because of that I feel it’s likely that mentally ill individuals could empathize more and feel a sense of relief.
One of the main areas that I felt was problematic was when Diana “signs” the paperwork giving consent to the electroconvulsive therapy. It seems in this scene, near the end of the first act, that she is pushed into participating in ECT by her husband. I think the line “What makes you think I’d lose my mind for you?” shows Diana’s hesitation and or how she isn’t comfortable with this treatment. I don’t know much about electroconvulsive therapy, but from what I do know, most individuals have short term memory loss and difficulty learning. Most times, problems with memory will get better. It seems unlikely that an individual would lose a massive chunk (19 years?) of their memory from the procedure. Aside from this, I did find it difficult, in a way, to read because ECT does have negative associations and is something that bothers me, personally.
Keeping with the previously mentioned characters, Diana progresses further into her mental illness with the progression of the musical even though she strives to move forward in her life. Her relationships, specifically with her husband, Dan and her daughter, Natalie weaken. The distant relationships further the feeling of isolation for Diana and this was something that I could relate to and empathize with. Dan on the other hand irked me a bit. It’s easy to see that he only wants what is best for his family; he wants them to be normal, but he struggles so much with the situation. Through his struggling, it seems that he becomes selfish. His decisions also seem to lead to other problems (pushing Diana into ECT).
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