Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette’s internationally famous alt-rock album released in 1995 has been turned into exciting musical theatre with two new songs composed for it. Imaginatively directed by the American Repertory Theatre’s Diane Paulus and stunningly choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the performers sing, dance, and act with skill. At the opening, two bands roll on stage. A thirteen person chorus sings and dances to the music before pulling a screen open exposing the Healy living room. This chorus functions much like its ancient Greek predecessor.
The book written by Diablo Cody revolves around the Healys, an affluent family living in a wealthy suburb in Connecticut. Each family member has a secret. Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley), a stay at home mother, is writing a Christmas letter in which she explains that she had a bad automobile accident followed by two operations but is now fully recovered–a lie. Her husband Steve (Sean Allan Krill), involved with his work life, is seldom at home.
When he is, his time is spent watching pornographic videos on his computer unaware that his wife is monitoring him. The Healys have two children. Nick (Derek Klena) the eldest is a good student who intends to go to a top college. His mother believes he is her “only success.” The younger, Frankie (Celia Gooding) was adopted after Mary Jane had three miscarriages. She is black, angry, and having a clandestine affair with Jo (Lauren Patten) a transgendered schoolmate. Frankie lives in a completely white world. Like many adolescents, she resents her mother while acting out to get her attention. Mary Jane falls for it and feels inadequate. All I Really Want sung by Frankie and Mary Jane expresses their frustration.
On their way to school, Frankie confides in Jo about her relationship with Mary Jane. Later when in her writing class Frankie is verbally attacked by other students about her use of ironic, Phoenix, a new student, praises her poem to her delight. The two sing Ironic, a work criticized over the years for misusing the word. Attracted to each other they remain after school to talk together. They grow closer over time and become lovers. Jo is devastated. Lauren Patten brought down the house with her rendition of You Oughta Know the night I saw it.
Mary Jane, addicted to opioids first prescribed for her after her surgeries meets drug dealers in back alleys. It is her addiction that put an end to lovemaking with her husband and left him feeling So Unsexy that the only sexual outlet he had was his porn habit.
Event piles on event. Frankie runs off to New York as the Unprodigal Daughter and her relationship with Phoenix terminates when he refuses to say he loves her. Nick, the perfect son, has his morality tested when he becomes involved in a rape committed by his friend Andrew (Logan Hart) and must decide whether to tell the police what he knows. Bella (Kathryn Gallagher), the rape victim, is encouraged to go to the police by Frankie. They don’t believe her and she is vilified by the kids in town. Mary Jane almost dies of an overdose. No realism here; the scene takes the form of a ballet performed by Elizabeth Stanley and a dancer dressed and made up to look like her. Nick does the right thing and Bella is exonerated by her peers proving that a man’s word is still stronger than a woman’s. Mary Jane and Steve reunite though she undergoes rehabilitation first. Posters in hand, the students join together to protest social evils and support movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.
The acting is strong throughout with standout performances given by Elizabeth Stanley, Celia Gooding, Lauren Patten, and Antonio Cipriano.
Riccardo Hernandez’s clever and efficient scene design helps keep the pace up. Justin Townsend’s lighting is beautiful.
Although I found the play too long and overpacked, the powerful production may carry it to Broadway.
Jagged Little Pill runs through July 15 at the Loeb Theatre in Cambridge, MA
This article originally appeared in Capital Critics’ Circle on May 27, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.