Jagged Little Pill
American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, Mass., (617) 547-8300
The new musical inspired by Alanis Morissette’s best-known album can’t be called subtle, said Jed Gottlieb in the Boston Herald. “But the lack of delicacy in Jagged Little Pill is a feature, not a bug.” Morissette’s 1995 rock landmark captured the internal rage of every young woman frustrated by the world’s injustices, and Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody was wise enough to honor the record’s anger and dry wit even as she invented a range of characters to deliver the songs. In a show directed by Diane Paulus and almost certain to reach Broadway, the central character is the adopted African-American daughter of a privileged white Connecticut family, and she and virtually everyone around her “feel the acute crush of American life.” Given that the myriad crises they face echo many of today’s biggest social concerns, “it’s amazing how well Morissette’s catalog, most of which she wrote at 19, pairs with the range of emotions that come with these tragedies.”
“Not since Rent, perhaps, has a musical invested so many bravura roles with so much individual life,” said Bob Verini in Variety. Celia Gooding, who plays Frankie, the heroine, is one of the production’s two breakout stars, and from the start, she shares the spotlight. A “splendidly energized” Elizabeth Stanley plays Frankie’s mother, a perfectionist who’s secretly addicted to opiates and married to a workaholic with an internet porn addiction. Frankie, meanwhile, is feeling attracted to a new boy in town (Antonio Cipriano) while still romantically tied to her best friend, Jo, played by the show’s other true find. On opening night, when Lauren Patton stepped forward as Jo to sing Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” a “lacerating indictment of sexual betrayal,” she inspired a standing ovation.
But this “synthetically woke” extravaganza simply tries too hard to be a musical of the moment, said Christopher Ehlers in TheaterMania.com. The rape of a schoolmate late in the show adds one more outrage to the script’s long checklist, and it feels “the most gratuitously shoehorned in.” Worse, the whole story ends on an unearned note of uplift—a decision “shocking for the tastelessness with which it suggests that we can overcome anything so long as we are rich and white.” But you don’t have to be as wealthy as Frankie’s family to connect with their many crises, said Christopher Muther in The Boston Globe. “No matter how hyperbolic, Jagged Little Pill is a reflection of our lives”—lives overstuffed with work, breaking bad-news alerts, smartphone pings, and personal worries. If a revival is staged 20 years from now, the show’s idea of high drama might seem quaint. “Right now,” though, “Jagged Little Pill feels urgent.”