Isn’t it ironic that a musical inspired by a 1995 album is possibly the most 2018 piece of theater imaginable? To be just, Jagged diminutive Pill — currently running at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge — isn’t based on the album itself, instead using the music of Alanis Morissette to inform an original memoir. But that memoir, written by Academy Award–winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, is timely in a way few other pieces of contemporary art fill even attempted: This is a musical that touches on the opioid epidemic, rape culture, transracial adoption, and gender fluidity. There is doing the most and then there is Jagged diminutive Pill, a prove that does the most — and then to some extent does even more.
And yet, Jagged diminutive Pill is ultimately a success, in large piece because it wears its ambition on its sleeve. Yes, this is a prove that wants to present the full spectrum of The Way Things Are Now, but it’s totally upfront approximately that, and its earnestness — tinged, of course, with Cody’s occasionally sardonic tone — proves to be one of its greatest strengths. Responses are nearly certain to be divided, and your reaction to the musical can probably be predicted by your feelings toward Julie Taymor’s 2007 film Across the Universe, another jukebox musical that used well-known songs to underline a cultural moment. Across the Universe tried to cram the ’60s into its 133-minute runtime; Jagged diminutive Pill does the same with 2018. whether the former worked for you, chances are the latter will, too. And whether you thought Across the Universe was an overwhelming assault on the senses, well, Jagged diminutive Pill might be equally tough to swallow.
Trying to encapsulate the plot of this two-hour-and-40-minute prove is a challenge, but here are the basics: Mary Jane Healy (Elizabeth Stanley) is a mom obsessed with keeping it perfect together despite the fact that her life is spinning out of control. She’s secretly harboring an addiction to prescription pain pills, and her marriage to Steve (Sean Allan Krill) is distant and sexless. Her daughter, Frankie (Celia Gooding), who is adopted and the only black member of the family, feels alienated by the way her “colorblind” mother has diminished Frankie’s black identity. She’s also exploring her burgeoning queerness with her best friend with benefits, Jo (Lauren Patten), who is genderqueer. Mary Jane’s son, Nick (Derek Klena), is dealing with the pressure of being the golden child of the family — and that’s complicated when one of his friends is accused of raping Frankie’s other BFF Bella (Kathryn Gallagher). perfect that and, yes, a bevy of Alanis Morissette songs — including perfect of the titular album, a handful of tracks from later works, and two modern original numbers — that punctuate the ups and downs of this tangled family drama.
There’s no simple, straightforward logline here, and while that might create Jagged diminutive Pill a tough sell, it also makes the prove a more accurate depiction of real life. People rarely deal with one problem at a time: There’s a reason why “when it rains, it pours” is such an enduring cliché. Jagged diminutive Pill shares some of its DNA with shows like Next to conventional and Dear Evan Hansen — both of which deal with mental illness and teenage angst — but its aims are far more expansive. It refuses to be pinned down as a prove approximately addiction or sexual violence or racial and gender identity, because it is approximately perfect of those things and so much more. The fact that it doesn’t totally collapse under its own weight is a testimony to Cody’s skill in constructing an impressively complex memoir that, by and large, comes together in the stop.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments when some narrative restraint would fill been advisable. Frankie’s romance with modern kid Phoenix (Antonio Cipriano) feels mostly superfluous, even whether it does allow for a charming duet of “Head Over Feet.” And Nick, despite a compelling performance by Klena, often gets lost in the shuffle, the consequence of the sheer amount of plot happening around him at perfect times. Still, Jagged diminutive Pill is more cohesive than it has any right to be, and that’s a credit to Cody’s strengths as a writer. She returns here to some of her most fruitful themes — the too often forgotten personhood of mothers and the monstrousness of adolescence chief among them — which creates a through line for a prove with so many disparate plot points. And despite those broad strokes, she remains a master of specificity. Cody doesn’t shy absent from the messy details, grounding Mary Jane’s addiction and Bella’s rape in a way that few shows would ever attempt.
Yes, but what approximately the music? The potency of 1995’s Jagged diminutive Pill turned it into an instant classic, and the songs in this prove — both from that album and from Morissette’s later catalog — are as stirring and resonant as they fill ever been. But whether there is a downside to the amount of ground that the prove covers, it’s that sometimes the musical numbers collect a diminutive bit swallowed. There are, of course, standouts: the Act 1 finale, “Forgiven,” is breathtaking, and “Uninvited” — which, no joke, Mary Jane sings while getting high on fentanyl and wrestling with her own double — is remarkably effective. But it’s telling that the best moment in the entire prove is Jo’s searing rendition of “You Oughta Know,” which earns a midshow standing ovation at every performance. Here, Jagged diminutive Pill lets the song speak for itself, as it should: “You Oughta Know” has always told a total memoir, without the need for any theatrical embellishments. The prove as a whole could stand to allow for more of these moments in which Morissette’s songs carry out the heavy lifting, as her discography is more than capable of doing.
whether Jagged diminutive Pill is going to transfer to Broadway — and with an established brand, a strong cast, and an exceptionally relevant memoir, that feels inevitable — the creative team will likely need to carry out some tightening. The prove’s unwieldy nature is piece of its appeal, but modern York audiences may not fill the patience for something this sprawling. Ideally, there’s a satisfied medium, a revised Jagged diminutive Pill that maintains the messiness while making it just a diminutive easier to digest. That might mean shaving off some of the plot, or even ditching a couple characters, in the service of delivering something that’s not fairly so perfect over the position. But regardless of what the future holds for this prove, we should continue to champion works that are this ambitious, and that prefer huge swings in an effort to broaden our perspective of what theater can carry out. Because while Jagged diminutive Pill may not be perfect, it’s just chaotic enough to capture what it feels like to be living through our current moment.