Review: Jagged Little Pill, starring Elizabeth Stanley
Jagged Little Pill isn't based on the life of Alanis Morissette. Instead, the story of the Healy family in Connecticut has been created to fit the chaotic, emotional, and complex nature of Morissette's songs. And it works beautifully, becoming a show that is unapologetically raw, honest, and real.
Opening with the Healy family's annual Christmas letter, matriarch Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley) boasts about the accomplishments of her family. But behind the cheeriness, she's secretly battling addiction, while her husband Steve (Sean Allan Krill) is a workaholic who's not feeling fulfilled by their marriage. Their son, Nick (Derek Klena), has just been accepted to Harvard while adopted daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding) finds herself coming to terms with her place in their community on both a personal and public level.
The perfect image of her family that Mary Jane tries to project is threatened by internal and external factors that ultimately cause it to shatter. At a party, Nick's friend Andrew (Logan Hart) rapes their classmate, Bella (Kathryn Gallagher), and the starkly different reactions of Nick and Frankie cause tension in the family. Meanwhile, Mary Jane's addiction to Oxycodone is worsening after she was prescribed the drug following a car accident months earlier. And Frankie finds herself in a love triangle with Jo (Lauren Patten), whom she has been dating, and Phoenix (Antonio Cipriano), the new kid who sticks up for her in English class.
What makes Jagged Little Pill so special is how unapologetic it is in its social commentary. The songs become the perfect vehicle of this from the very beginning in "All I Really Want," featuring a jarring moment of silence asking "here, can you handle this" as the ensemble lay on the ground with images of the aftermath school shootings projected behind them. In "Predator," one of the two songs Morissette wrote for the show, is absolutely chilling reflection of what Bella goes through, and Gallagher gives an absolutely shattering performance.
Other songs take on a lighter tone, as "Ironic" becomes a poem that Frankie reads in class, only to have her classmates point out how it actually is not ironic. From this moment onwards, you know that Gooding's performance as Frankie is going to be one to remember. This is also where the audience meets Phoenix, and like Frankie, don't be surprised if you fall from him, "Head Over Feet." In a similar fashion "Not The Doctor," is also used to a little bit of comic effect, having Steve and Mary Jane go back and forth on their marital issues, until finally seeing a marriage counselor. All of the principal characters are given a chance to shine, as Patten brings the audience to their feet following her performance of "You Oughta Know," as Jo lets her anger loose on Frankie. Klena also brings another side to the "golden boy" character of Nick through the song "Perfect," reflecting how much pressure is on him. Krill also manages to pull on the audience's heartstrings with his performance of "Mary Jane," as Steve waits to see if his wife will be okay.
At the center of it all is Stanley as Mary Jane. Her performance is the rock that grounds this show in reality and it's as emotional, honest, and raw as the show itself. She is the pulse of Jagged Little Pill, while the heartbeat is the breathtaking ensemble, all thrilling directed by Diane Paulus with choreography from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui that reflects the emotional journey that the audience goes on from start to finish. Jagged Little Pill is an instant reflection of the world today, and it's completely real. The messages are urgent and unforgettable. Allow it to inform you, and let yourself be moved by it. It's more than worth it.