Thursday, August 19, 2010

Becoming Norman by Norman P. Dixon

By Joe Straw

Norman P. Dixon has to be the luckiest man alive and he may not even know it.

Norman grew up Mormon in Utah, blessed with a singing voice and the ability to read and write music. He is loved by everyone, his parents, his siblings, and is surrounded by friends who would do anything for him.

But, growing up, there was this gnawing internal fear that everything was not quite conventional with the way he felt and the way he thought he should behave.  Norman P. Dixon was trying to become normal.

Well, that didn’t happen and it ain’t gonna happen.

C. Raul Espinoza, It’s In The Cards & The Noho Arts Center Ensemble presents Becoming Norman written by Norman P. Dixon, directed by Debra De Liso, and playing through September 12, 2010.

Was Norman really trying to become normal?  And what is normal, these days? Rest assured Norman is about as normal as a person could get.  Not that far from Mainstreet, USA, albeit the left side of the street, but is that such a bad thing?  

Trying to define normal would send the heartiest of individuals absolutely mad. 

One need only to look at the photograph on the cover of the program to get an idea of what this one man musical, play, is all about.  The photo is of a time gone by, of a memory, and a picture that captures a lasting moment in the life of Norman P. Dixon.

In the photograph is a grand frosted Christmas tree. In front of the tree is a brand new tricycle with a wagon attachment, and emblazoned on the side of the wagon are the words “Fire Chief”.   There are two dogs; one stuffed, the other a plastic Snoopy, and a racing set. And in the middle of the plenteous Christmas treasures sits Norman, smiling and clutching a doll.  (Whether it was given to him or is his sisters is not entirely clear.)

Norman lived a normal life.  Slight oddity that he wore his mother’s dresses put on her high heels and played Barbies until he dropped.  Everything seemed normal until he got to an age where he was cognizant and continuously reminded that he probably should not be doing these things, first from his brother, then his parents, and then his friends.  And as he grew, and in school, those negatives were reinforced with a vengeance from his classmates.

Later getting involved with theatrics and getting a little more comfortable with the people surrounding him before going on to BYU and then a two year mission near Quebec for the Mormon Church.  It is pretty normal stuff.

So, where does his deep fear Norman talks about come from?  This is the part of the show that is not really explored.  Is it possible that it could have been his church?  Was this his trial burden? And was being gay something that he had to overcome to be solid with the church and God?  Surely, if Norman is falling, this could be the reason for all this fear.

For Norman music seems to be the cicatrix for all the harm done to him in his earlier life and unabashedly he goes for it. The music and lyrics by Norman P. Dixon are nicely done and one may not remember the tunes or the words but praises Dixon for going all out to get his message out.

Trying to get a hold of an idea and a through line in this play and run with it is a very tricky thing in this one-man theatrical memoir.  The director, Debra De Liso, should do away with this line, throw it in the trash, and present this as a unique theatrical event. There is enough here to make Becoming Norman unique. Secondly, if fear is the overriding conflict, explore the fear. Get to the root of fear that is holding Norman back, explore it, taste it, feel it, and roll around in it until it is found.

Norman’s life was pasted on the walls for all to see.  I couldn’t help but notice the audience made a mad dash to see the photographs as well as the writings on the wall.  But interestingly enough, not really used during the presentation and maybe something that should be explored. 

One cannot help but like Becoming Norman but does it make great theatre? One would need to see it, to explore the life, and then make a decision.

NoHo Arts Center
11136 Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA  91601

The NoHo Arts Center is a beautiful theatre complex and there’s plenty of free parking.

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