‘Jagged Little Pill’ shows what it means to ‘live and learn’ in 2018

When the Green Day musical American Idiot hit the stage in 2010, punk fans everywhere rolled their eyes. When news broke that a new play was coming out using Alanis Morissette’s music, however, pretty much everyone acknowledged that the artistic fit couldn’t be any more aligned.

Jagged Little Pill debuted at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) in Cambridge last month, the first play of its kind to build a story around Morissette’s 1995 album and catalog in general. Don’t ask who’s playing the rock juggernaut, though — this isn’t the story of a raucous 18-year-old flinging musical ammo at her older ex-boyfriend.

The musical fleshes out the unfortunate but very plausible story of a Connecticut family torn in roughly 80 different directions: Opioid addiction, queer adolescence, interracial adoption, a fraying marriage, friends coping with the aftereffects of sexual assault. There’s no single main character, but the flux of the aforementioned issues tie the play’s roster of leads in the Healy family into an inextricable knot.

The playbill keeps the entire plot and barrage of bs under wraps with a white poster and Jagged Little Pill’s classic album cover typography with just the tagline “the truth can be tough to swallow.” Maybe the Morissette-less story line will disappoint diehard fans of the singer, but to be an Alanis Morissette fan is to be a fan of passionate conflict, and there’s no lack of that.

Your husband spends more time at work and watching porn than he does with you? Rough. Your best friend that you had a “thing” with gave their flower up to some new kid in school (and you walk in on it)? Awkward. You witnessed someone take advantage of an unconscious girl at a party while you were drinking underage, and now have to confirm the story to the police? Well, the solution’s obvious here but it’s not something that your prospective colleges are going to be delighted to hear about.

“What are we angry about today?” mother Mary Jane Healy asks her adopted high school daughter Frankie as she props her newest protest sign on the kitchen table (it’s about periods, btw). All things considered, the quip sums up the multifaceted plot pretty well.

The work of Diablo Cody (Juno) and Morissette, who penned two new songs for the musical,Jagged Little Pill finds ample uses for Morissette’s discography. “All I Really Want” becomes a mother/daughter riff-off argument song, “Unprodigal Daughter” poses as a teenage runaway backdrop; “Ironic” narrates an off-kilter poetry reading in a high school English class. “Oughta Know” explodes as the musical tipping point of the entire production, and anyone who feels that using the song as a teenage outburst is a waste is also forgetting the fact that that’s exactly what the tune was in the first place.

“I love that the album has served as such an incredible platform from which to jump off of, and to add to,” Morissette told A.R.T. in an interview for their seasonal guide. Fused together, the album and the play feed off each other effortlessly — proving that Jagged Little Pill (the album) can and will withstand decades of cultural change, and unfortunately, in 2018, there’s still plenty of injustice and heartbreak to be rightfully pissed about.

Jagged Little Pill shows at A.R.T now through July 15; featured photo by Evgenia Eliseeva.