Isn’t it ironic musical impressed by a 1995 album is probably probably the most 2018 piece of theater conceivable? To be truthful, Jagged Little Pill — presently working on the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge — isn’t based mostly on the album itself, as a substitute utilizing the music of Alanis Morissette to inform an unique story. But that story, written by Academy Award–profitable screenwriter Diablo Cody, is well timed in a method few different items of latest artwork have even tried: This is a musical that touches on the opioid epidemic, rape tradition, transracial adoption, and gender fluidity. There is doing probably the most after which there may be Jagged Little Pill, a present that does probably the most — after which by some means does much more.
And but, Jagged Little Pill is finally a hit, largely as a result of it wears its ambition on its sleeve. Yes, it is a present that wishes to current the total spectrum of The Way Things Are Now, but it surely’s utterly upfront about that, and its earnestness — tinged, after all, with Cody’s often sardonic tone — proves to be certainly one of its biggest strengths. Responses are nearly sure to be divided, and your response to the musical can in all probability be predicted by your emotions towards Julie Taymor’s 2007 movie Across the Universe, one other jukebox musical that used well-known songs to underline a cultural second. Across the Universe tried to cram the ’60s into its 133-minute runtime; Jagged Little Pill does the identical with 2018. If the previous labored for you, chances are high the latter will, too. And if you happen to thought Across the Universe was an awesome assault on the senses, properly, Jagged Little Pill is likely to be equally powerful to swallow.
Trying to encapsulate the plot of this two-hour-and-40-minute present is a problem, however listed here are the fundamentals: Mary Jane Healy (Elizabeth Stanley) is a mother obsessive about holding all of it collectively even supposing her life is spinning uncontrolled. She’s secretly harboring an dependancy to prescription ache tablets, and her marriage to Steve (Sean Allan Krill) is distant and sexless. Her daughter, Frankie (Celia Gooding), who’s adopted and the one black member of the household, feels alienated by the best way her “colorblind” mom has diminished Frankie’s black id. She’s additionally exploring her burgeoning queerness together with her finest good friend with advantages, Jo (Lauren Patten), who’s genderqueer. Mary Jane’s son, Nick (Derek Klena), is coping with the strain of being the golden little one of the household — and that’s difficult when certainly one of his pals is accused of raping Frankie’s different BFF Bella (Kathryn Gallagher). All that and, sure, a bevy of Alanis Morissette songs — together with all the titular album, a handful of tracks from later works, and two new unique numbers — that punctuate the ups and downs of this tangled household drama.
There’s no easy, easy logline right here, and whereas which may make Jagged Little Pill a tricky promote, it additionally makes the present a extra correct depiction of actual life. People hardly ever cope with one downside at a time: There’s a cause why “when it rains, it pours” is such a permanent cliché. Jagged Little Pill shares a few of its DNA with exhibits like Next to Normal and Dear Evan Hansen — each of which cope with psychological sickness and teenage angst — however its goals are much more expansive. It refuses to be pinned down as a present about dependancy or sexual violence or racial and gender id, as a result of it’s about all of these issues and a lot extra. The undeniable fact that it doesn’t utterly collapse below its personal weight is a testomony to Cody’s talent in developing an impressively advanced story that, by and huge, comes collectively in the long run.
That’s to not say there aren’t moments when some narrative restraint would have been advisable. Frankie’s romance with new child Phoenix (Antonio Cipriano) feels principally superfluous, even when it does enable for a captivating duet of “Head Over Feet.” And Nick, regardless of a compelling efficiency by Klena, typically will get misplaced within the shuffle, the consequence of the sheer quantity of plot taking place round him always. Still, Jagged Little Pill is extra cohesive than it has any proper to be, and that’s a credit score to Cody’s strengths as a author. She returns right here to a few of her most fruitful themes — the too typically forgotten personhood of moms and the monstrousness of adolescence chief amongst them — which creates a by way of line for a present with so many disparate plot factors. And regardless of these broad strokes, she stays a grasp of specificity. Cody doesn’t draw back from the messy particulars, grounding Mary Jane’s dependancy and Bella’s rape in a method that few exhibits would ever try.
Yes, however what in regards to the music? The efficiency of 1995’s Jagged Little Pill turned it into an immediate traditional, and the songs on this present — each from that album and from Morissette’s later catalog — are as stirring and resonant as they’ve ever been. But if there’s a draw back to the quantity of floor that the present covers, it’s that typically the musical numbers get a little bit bit swallowed. There are, after all, standouts: the Act 1 finale, “Forgiven,” is breathtaking, and “Uninvited” — which, no joke, Mary Jane sings whereas getting excessive on fentanyl and wrestling together with her personal double — is remarkably efficient. But it’s telling that one of the best second in your entire present is Jo’s searing rendition of “You Oughta Know,” which earns a midshow standing ovation at each efficiency. Here, Jagged Little Pill lets the music converse for itself, because it ought to: “You Oughta Know” has all the time instructed an entire story, with out the necessity for any theatrical gildings. The present as a complete might stand to permit for extra of those moments through which Morissette’s songs do the heavy lifting, as her discography is greater than able to doing.
If Jagged Little Pill goes to switch to Broadway — and with a longtime model, a powerful forged, and an exceptionally related story, that feels inevitable — the artistic crew will possible must do some tightening. The present’s unwieldy nature is a part of its attraction, however New York audiences might not have the persistence for one thing this sprawling. Ideally, there’s a cheerful medium, a revised Jagged Little Pill that maintains the messiness whereas making it just a bit simpler to digest. That may imply shaving off a few of the plot, and even ditching a pair characters, within the service of delivering one thing that’s not fairly so all over. But no matter what the longer term holds for this present, we must always proceed to champion works which can be this bold, and that take big swings in an effort to broaden our perspective of what theater can do. Because whereas Jagged Little Pill is probably not excellent, it’s simply chaotic sufficient to seize what it feels prefer to be dwelling by way of our present second.