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They say: “Her mother has wings; her sister can raise the dead; and her brother is growing increasingly bizarre in his own way. How can Jane keep her family together when she’s not even sure she wants to be a part of it? Who knew being born normal could be so difficult?”
Glens take: Born Normal had me worried there for a while. As playwright Stephen Spotswood trotted out his clan of quirk-riddled characters, many of whom possess the kind of gifts that’d earn them AP credits at the Xavier School (wings, ESP, a necromantic touch) I girded myself for that particular species of magical realism thats more about the magic than the real—theater that concerns itself with nothing but its own overripe and overwrought mythology.
But even as Born Normal’s contrivances pile up, youll start to spot signs of promise: Eli Sibleys patrician bearing, Slice Hicks low-key delivery, and especially some evocatively staged and downright lovely moments involving those wings. And then, about 20 minutes in, a tonal shift occurs, at which point your can feel the author deciding: Okay, I’ve got enough toys to play with here. From that moment on, Born Normal turns in on itself, but not in the airless, overcooked way that reduces its magical elements to mere cartoons. Instead, Spotswood and director Ryan Whinnem devote themselves to fully imagining this world until it achieves a metaphorical and emotional heft.
That said, the shows metaphorical elements are awfully on-the-nose, but Spotswood gets a bye because he allows the characters to notice it too. Im less inclined to forgive the way the show underutilizes a naturalistic actor like Brandon McCoy while overutilizing Laura E. Quenzels prolix narrator. And even though Born Normal ends precisely when it needs to, it could stand another cold, appraising edit: Im not sure the character of Sissy (Rachel Holt) is yet pulling her narrative weight, for one thing, and if a scene between the narrator and her grandmother (Holt again) served some end besides giving Holt a chance to make some funny faces, I confess I missed it.
See it if: Your bookshelf leans more Chris Adrian and Kevin Brockmeier than Clive Cussler and Nicholas Sparks.
Skip it if: In your estimation, the complex psycho-social terrain of the Normal-Child-in-Wacky-Family dynamic has already been mapped, and definitively so, by The Munsters.