Review: “Dear Evan Hansen” is a much-needed story about grief


Image from dearevanhansen.com

One hundred and twenty-one people commit suicide every day in the United Sates. In the turbulent wake of these losses, and in the shadow of mental illness, the people left behind are forced to navigate unknown territory.

“So does anybody have a map?”

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a tear-baiting story and refreshing conversation about the complexities of grief, the modern world and self love.

The show's plot unfolds after a lonely teenage boy, Connor Murphy, played by Mike Faist (“Newsies”), commits suicide, and his parents mistake a self-deprecating note he stole from classmate Evan Hansen, played by Ben Platt (“The Book of Mormon”), for Connor’s suicide note. Evan, desperate for a familial connection, stitches together a tale about a friendship with Connor, and quickly becomes entangled in his own fictions.

The accused shortcomings of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s “La La Land” music are distant from the poignant performances of the “Evan Hansen” cast. Each character’s voice, full and tender, pointedly beg for a genuine connection with a dead son, absent mother or uninvolved father.

Platt’s power was visible in the bodily fluids dripping, spewing and leaking from his face for the entire show. His commitment to illustrating Evan’s profound anxiety—manifested in his hard, rapid blinking, machine gun rants, fiddling hands, sweat, tears and snot—created a sympathetic character in the show’s opening scene, and a complete empathic person by the end of the first song. Though the storyline followed a precise situation, the show never failed to be obviously—and oddly—relatable.

“Dear Evan Hansen” confronts, among myriad other themes, the confusion originated in the complexity of suicide grief. These complexities, mostly directly addressed during “Requiem” in the first act, normalize the seemingly abnormal maelstrom of contradicting feelings left in the aftermath of suicide.

In “Requiem,” Connor’s mother, played by Jennifer Laura Thompson, is unimaginably saddened, but living in a fantasy world she is equally responsible for building, and one she believes can bring her son back. Connor’s father, played by Michael Park, refuses to cry for his child, and instead feels resentment towards him for dying. His sister, played by Laura Dreyfuss, is left with feelings of anger and sadness for the fact that she cannot feel sadness. Connor’s family is unable to grieve in the manner grief is often portrayed: accept the loss, feel sad for a pre-set amount of time and move on with life.

But grief, they find, isn’t a process—they can’t even get started, so “[they] will sing no requiem tonight.”

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