Heartbreak and humor go hand-in-hand

The Goodman family in 'Next to Normal'
The Goodman family in 'Next to Normal'
Diana deals with mental illness in 'Next to Normal'
Diana deals with mental illness in 'Next to Normal'
The daughter finds a new boyfriend in 'Next to Normal'
The daughter finds a new boyfriend in 'Next to Normal'

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - City Stage has opened its final musical of the season, and it's weighty.  Next to Normal's portrayal of a family coping with mental illness won three Tonys in 2009 and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010.

At first glance, Diana Goodman's family seems normal, but a closer looks shows she is not well.

"[She has] severe mental illness, diagnosed as bipolar depressive with delusions," said actress Kat Vernon.

Her husband is the picture of patience.

"I think it's adjusting to your circumstance," said actor Bryan Putnam.  "Learning how to live with it, learning to help people who you are responsible for to live with it."

Her daughter is coping.

"[She's] the smart girl going through a bit of rebellious phase," said Vernon.

And her son plays a different role entirely.  Click here for a spoiler alert.

All the characters are integral, coming together to perform a musical that explores something deep.

"It's on the coping, the various treatment options, her reaction to those, her family's reaction to those," said Vernon. "The devastating effects on her family and on her as they try to cope with this illness. The music, the story, it is heartbreaking."

But amidst the pain, the audience may find themselves smiling.

"It's funny," said Putnam. "It's hilarious."

"Most people cope with pain through humor and that does happen in this show," said Vernon.

"In the first five minutes, no, in the first 30 seconds, you're laughing and you're laughing and you're laughing, and then there's a bomb," said Putnam. "But then you're laughing again."

"It does end on a hopeful note, and you do see the strength of the family's bonds," said Vernon.

Proving the Goodmans may not be normal, but they're close to the next best thing.

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