Hip-Shot: ‘Born Normal’

Born Normal
The Source

Remaining performances:
Saturday, July 19 @ 6 PM
Sunday, July 20 @ 1 PM
Saturday, July 26 @ 5 PM
Sunday, July 27 6:30 PM

They say: "Her mother has wings; her sister can raise the dead; and her brother is growing increasingly bizarre in his own way. How can Jane keep her family together when she's not even sure she wants to be a part of it? Who knew being born normal could be so difficult?"

Glen’s take: Born Normal had me worried there for a while. As playwright Stephen Spotswood trotted out his clan of quirk-riddled characters, many of whom possess the kind of gifts that'd earn them AP credits at the Xavier School (wings, ESP, a necromantic touch) I girded myself for that particular species of magical realism that’s more about the magic than the real–theater that concerns itself with nothing but its own overripe and overwrought mythology.

But even as Born Normal's contrivances pile up, you’ll start to spot signs of promise: Eli Sibley’s patrician bearing, Slice Hicks’ low-key delivery, and – especially – some evocatively staged and downright lovely moments involving those wings. And then, about 20 minutes in, a tonal shift occurs, at which point your can feel the author deciding: Okay, I've got enough toys to play with here. From that moment on, Born Normal turns in on itself, but not in the airless, overcooked way that reduces its magical elements to mere cartoons. Instead, Spotswood and director Ryan Whinnem devote themselves to fully imagining this world until it achieves a metaphorical and emotional heft.

That said, the show’s metaphorical elements are awfully on-the-nose, but Spotswood gets a bye because he allows the characters to notice it too. I’m less inclined to forgive the way the show underutilizes a naturalistic actor like Brandon McCoy while overutilizing Laura E. Quenzel’s prolix narrator. And even though Born Normal ends precisely when it needs to, it could stand another cold, appraising edit: I’m not sure the character of Sissy (Rachel Holt) is yet pulling her narrative weight, for one thing, and if a scene between the narrator and her grandmother (Holt again) served some end besides giving Holt a chance to make some funny faces, I confess I missed it.

See it if: Your bookshelf leans more Chris Adrian and Kevin Brockmeier than Clive Cussler and Nicholas Sparks.

Skip it if: In your estimation, the complex psycho-social terrain of the Normal-Child-in-Wacky-Family dynamic has already been mapped, and definitively so, by The Munsters.

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  • Brian Reed

    I thoroughly enjoyed this show. Granted I'm a sucker for the whole magical-realism thang, but still, the production earns high accolades for some knockout staging and impressive performances. The aural tableau at the end was especially moving and, as Glen says, it concludes in exactly the right place. The direction is perhaps the most creative I've seen in the festival--partly because much of the best stuff I've seen has been self-auteured either by performer or ensemble--which is something I think has not gotten enough discussion on the F&P blog compared to talk of playwrights and performers. Hmmmm. Maybe I'll go draft a post about it.

  • EShiu

    I liked Holt's grandmother, and I disagree that there was no point in that scene. I think the exchange between Janey and the grandmother marks a turning point in Janey's maturation from insecure teen to powerful woman.