Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: Truer Than Fiction

By Michael Block

The portrayal of LGBTQ characters in mainstream media is pretty consistent. They are either over sexualized, littered in stereotypes, or face dark plot lines. But why? In Jamie Jarrett's new musical Normativity, Jarrett tries to break the norm and rewrite our story.
As part of the 2016 New York Musical Festival, Normativity, with book and score by Jamie Jarrett, Charlie is trying to finish his latest novel. But when he is about to kill off his queer character Emily, she comes to life in hopes of changing the narrative. Now in the real world, Emily is forced into living life as a real person and finds herself falling for a young girl named Taylor. Meanwhile Charlie has a relationship on the rocks with his lover slash editor Anne, proving you should never mix work with pleasure. Normativity deserves praise thanks to Jarrett's passion to give inclusion and visibility to a community that deserves a place on stage. Jarrett has composed a solid modern pop rock score. But where Normativity needs some growth is through the book. Jarrett has set a strong goal with hopes of changing the narrative but the plot is slightly convoluted and needs to find a way to break free from the preachy tendencies. There's nothing audiences hate more than being told how to think. That being said, Jarrett has a solid foundation to work from. The book needs work. Whether it's by bringing a new book writer in, changing the plot, or working with a dramaturg, once Normativity gets a facelift, it will be something noteworthy. As it stands now, the text is like watching a Freeform (formally ABC Family) or MTV scripted series geared toward teens. If that's not the target demographic, the dialogue needs to shift away from clich├ęs. The other journey Jarrett could take is deciding who the central character or prime plot line is. In its current form it shifts often. If it's Charlie the writer, his arc needs to have more cultural conflict. If it's Emily the character, she needs to see how this world she's unfamiliar is functions. If it's Taylor, which is likely the right choice, then the others need to alter her journey even more.
photo by Steve Riskind
The Normativity company is filled with vivacity and youthful tenacity. Leading the bunch is the remarkable Izzy Castaldi as Taylor. Her voice is uniquely perky that matches the character. She made what could have been a throwaway song in "Whatever" a moment, highlighting Jarrett's songwriting skill. Mitchell Winter lived in constant turmoil as Charlie. But that's how Charlie is written. There was very little time to see in process his choices forcing Winter to play the woeful card. Madline Wolf as Emily explores what it is to be young and naive. And it forced a scattered character, wavering from thought to thought. Vocally, she and Castaldi blended well.
Even with a giant playing space at the Pearl, Normativity looked sleek and purposeful. The floor treatment and subsequent locker piece from scenic designer Kristen Robinson were fascinating to the eye. It looked like it was inspired by Gotye's "Somebody I Used to Know" music video. With direction by Mia Walker, bold choices were made but some had lingering affects. The metaphor of ripping up the paper was smart. The remains of the paper from that part forward? Not so smart. Even with potential slips to be considered, it sadly just didn't look pleasing. Lighting designer Zach Blane proved his love of color, blasting the cyc with a different color all the time. I'm sure there was a method to his madness but it unfortunately felt arbitrary.
Normativity is an important idea that deserves a platform. Jamie Jarrett has some work cut out before it can be the musical with a lasting legacy. But it can certainly happen. And that's what's most exciting.

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