Podcast: Running Lines with … Margie Lamb of 'Next to Normal'

Episode 172: Award-winning actor Margie Lamb is diving back into the dark waters of the Broadway musical Next to Normal for a third time, again playing Diana in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical that examines one suburban family’s decades-long struggle with mental illness. She is joined on our Running Lines podcast by Jill Oliver, a licensed clinical social worker who worked for 20 years at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan. The two talk frankly about the inherent problems in attempting to cure an incurable epidemic in America, including shame, funding and rampant over-medication. Lamb, the mother of two sons, also talks about the impact that playing Diana three times has had on her acting career, and her family.

Daniel Langhoff and Margie Lamb in 'Next to Normal.' Next to Normal, directed by Nick Sugar, runs through March 15 at the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St. The cast also features Daniel Langhoff as Dan (DCPA Theatre Company’s A Christmas Carol), Jacquie Jo Billings as Natalie, Josh Bess as Gabriel, Ethan Knowles as Henry and Jared Ming as the doctors. For tickets, call 303-794-2787 or click here to go to Town Hall’s home page

For information on mental health services that are available to anyone, call the Colorado Crisis and Support Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).

In the podcast, Oliver says the scope of the problem of untreated mental illness is as evident as the headlines: “I think we can look around and see how big of a problem it is,” she says, “especially here in our state, with some of the catastrophes that have happened over the past 15 years – starting with Columbine. I think it’s big, and it impacts our lives on a daily basis.”

Oliver’s perspective is clear: Mental illness ranges from road rage to suicide and horrific violence – and everyone has some degree of it. “We all have mental health and mental illness,” she said, “and it is our personal responsibility to keep as healthy as we can. We have to pay attention to our mental health on a regular basis.”

Oliver has seen Next to Normal twice, and praises the musical for its accuracy and for the opportunity it creates for people to talk about a subject that is still taboo subject in many American families.

“The musical represents mental illness in a way that helps people understand what it is all about, because it helps people understand how close we are all,” she says. “We’re just one little step away sometimes.”

Suicides in Colorado reached a record high in 2012, The Denver Post reported through the state health department. About 1,053 people in the state committed suicide, the highest number since at least 1940. No one knows exactly why the rate is so much higher in Colorado than in other parts of the country, but Oliver offers up some probable factors: 

  • Much of the state is rural and geographically isolated.
  • Colorado has a large military population with a high rate of trauma and post-traumatic stress.
  • Much of Colorado is ideologically and religiously conservative, which can add to the stigmatization of mental illness, depression and suicide.
  • The prevailing gun culture makes weapons more readily available here than in other parts of the country.
  • Colorado ranks 33rd among states in funding for mental illness, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute.

In the podcast, Lamb says she digs emotionally deeper into the story of the damaged suburban more than ever before.

Reviewing a previous staging of Next to Normal starring Lamb, DCPA Arts Journalist John Moore wrote of her for performance for The Denver Post:

“Hers is a relentlessly human portrayal of a mother named Diana who is torn between a man and a memory. She’s caught in a madness that’s rooted in the greatest love of all. And we’re with her all the way as doctors try to drug it, shock it and burn it out of existence. Even those who saw the gutsy, Tony-winning Alice Ripley perform the role might like Lamb better. … She is very much the relatable embodiment of the suburban American mom.”