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Monday, April 15, 2024

Bradley Searles never imagined he would be involved in drama.

Having chosen drama as a school elective because it was one of three choices, the actor didn’t plan to be cast in a full-length production. Now he’s playing Henry in the Gainesville Community Playhouse’s production of “Next to Normal,” a play about mental illness.


Searles was exposed to the playhouse in 2007, when an old high school friend acted in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

“He had me come and join the cast because they needed another guy,” Searles said. “Since then, I’ve done a couple shows here and there.”

Now, Searles plays a well-intentioned marijuana fanatic who takes special interest in the lead character’s daughter.

Directed by Dan Christophy, the play had its Gainesville debut Friday and will run until Feb. 21. Nighttime shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and daytime shows are at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $20 for regular admission, $16 for seniors and $12 for children or students with school IDs.

Dan Christophy, whose previous directing credits at the playhouse include “Les Miserables,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Hello Dolly,” “Aida” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” said one of his favorite parts of the rehearsal process is when an actor finally starts to understand his or her character.

“There’s a moment where they click,” he said. “And then they are the character.”

The play focuses on actress Susan Christophy’s character, Diana Goodman, a mother and wife dealing with bipolar disorder. However, her character’s problem is that she isn’t dissatisfied with her disorder and hallucinations.

“Because of that, she doesn’t fight it,” Susan Christophy said. “As a matter of fact, she doesn’t like medications, which a lot of people with bipolarism don’t like their medications, because it makes them feel nothing. They do not feel like themselves.”

Despite this flaw, the actress still enjoys her character.

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“I love her spirit,” she said of her character. “It’s there.”

Brittney Kelly plays Natalie, Goodman’s 16-year-old daughter who isn’t afraid to let her voice be heard.

“She will say whatever it is that comes to her mind,” Kelly said.

Kelly, who starred as Mary in “Mary Poppins” during the last Gainesville Community Playhouse show, first found out about the play from friends who saw it on Broadway.

In fact, it was seeing it on Broadway that inspired Dan Christophy to direct the show in the first place. Because the story deals with the serious issue of mental illness, he saw it as a way to start a dialogue.

“It’s kind of a topic that’s close to my heart, and I wanted the opportunity to present it to our community,” Dan Christophy said. “Mental illness is kind of something that’s disregarded and not paid attention to.”

Unlike a Broadway show, the playhouse is run almost completely by volunteers. Dan Christophy believes the theater’s ability to sustain itself on volunteer work is part of what makes it unique.

“It’s all community-driven,” he said. “It’s people who love to do it. It’s not people being forced to do it or paid to do it; they just come out because they want to do it.”

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