The stage is completely dark, and the theater is silent. Slowly, a single spot-light starts to come up, and we see Mary Jane sitting alone on a white couch. Everything surrounding her is in shadow, and we only vaguely see her facial features. She is dressed in white hoodie and blue sweatpants as she stares, fixated on a pill bottle.
As she takes a pill, she begins to sing Uninvited, and a hand pops out of the darkness, landing on Mary Jane’s shoulder. When Mary Jane notices the hand, she jumps up off the couch - which only invites the dancer, dressed identically to Mary Jane, to take her place.
She continues to sing as the choreography intensifies. We as an audience watch a series of gives and takes, pulls and reaches, and moments where all Mary Jane can do is watch her twin lose control. As Mary Jane’s drug high escalates, the choreography does the same. In some moments, the two become so intertwined that you may even find yourself struggling to be able to differentiate between Mary Jane and the dancer. Whether the dancer is meant to represent delusions from the drugs or a traumatic image from Mary Jane’s past is up to the observer. However, what is clear is that Mary Jane is terrified, and we are watching the nightmare come to life through the choreography.
As the song finishes, the dancer slowly disappears back behind the couch. Mary Jane curls up in a ball of pain and fear. If you are anything like this writer, you may find yourself leaning forward in your seat – curious to see what comes next as the theater sits in silence once again.
Broadway in Chicago Presents Jagged Little Pill
With book by Diablo Cody, Jagged Little Pill centers on an American family in Connecticut. Mary Jane Healy (Heidi Blickenstaff) is the picture-perfect mother, with husband, Steve (Chris Hoch), the eldest son, Nick (Dillon Klena), and their daughter, Frankie (Lauren Chanel). While the musical opens on the family’s annual holiday card highlighting everyone’s accomplishments, we quickly learn that nothing is ever quite as it seems – especially behind closed doors. When Mary Jane’s secret opioid addiction becomes too much for her to handle, everything that was bubbling quickly explodes to the surface, and the family is left to pick up the pieces.
Jagged Little Pill is a jukebox musical – featuring the hits of Alanis Morissette including All I Really Want, You Oughta Know, Head Over Feet, Wake Up, and Forgiven. The music alone is spectacular with standout vocalists – especially for those Alanis Morissette fans in the audience. The standing ovation at Opening Night confirmed for this writer that she was not alone in that opinion.
However, if you’re like this writer, you might find that it’s especially the collaboration between Director Diane Paulus and Movement Director/Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui that pushes the experience over the top. In the big ensemble numbers – there is a never blank spot on the stage. Every individual and space is utilized to the fullest degree, and the choreography showcases jaw-dropping talent in the performers.
When Jo (Jade McLeod) sings You Oughta Know, she and her girlfriend, Frankie, just had a fight. Filled with rage at Frankie’s actions, she sings the Morisette classic. At first, the performance is subtle. As Jo sings “I want you to know, that I am happy for you,” the stage is empty save for her and Frankie. Jo is clearly heartbroken, and McLeod sells the moment with the inability to even look Frankie in the eye.
As the emotion intensifies, we see McLeod begin to make use of the stage – with sweeping movements that take her from one side of the stage to the other. Just when it seems Frankie cannot possibly get dizzier from the outbursts, the emotion escalates even further – bringing the ensemble on stage. We see the choreography grow alongside Jo’s heartbreak, and slowly the number becomes a full-group experience. If you have a dramaturgical side like this writer, you find yourself drawn to the choice to physicalize the intense anger through so many bodies on the stage – utilizing every empty space in a way to surround Frankie with Jo’s emotion. Even if you are simply just a fan of beautiful choreography, the stage picture is one to see.
Full of talent and spectacle, Jagged Little Pill is roller coaster ride of an experience – with moments that will leave you dancing in your seat right alongside the scenes that might just bring you to tears.
Run Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, with intermission
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April 11 - April 23, 2023
James M. Nederlander Theatre
24 W. Randolph St.
About the Author: Lauren Katz
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
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