Put on a happy face
Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the United States since 1949, reaching millions of people through the media and local events. Therefore it came as no surprise that the topic was on my radar last week, as I tried to make sense of my schedule, which included (but was not limited to) one such event, in the form of Duncan Macmillan’s and Johnny Donahoe’s highly acclaimed one-person play titled “Every Brilliant Thing,” which deals with mental illness and suicide. I make it a habit not to read reviews of unfamiliar productions prior to my own experience, but feeling unsure about how I would react, I called on Lori Schneider, who was not only directing and performing in the show but has spent the past 30 years devoting her life to helping others deal with the issue, and serves as executive director for the Sullivan County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
“When I first heard about ‘Every Brilliant Thing,’” Schneider said, “I fell in love with the script. I knew I was meant to stage this show as a fund/awareness raiser for NAMI in this, our 35th anniversary year.” Expressing my hesitation to find humor in the situation, Lori assured me that I would, and yes—I took a peek at a few headlines, after learning that the show has been performed all over the world, garnering much praise along the way. An online review (The Guardian) referred to the show as “one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see about depression,” while another (the Los Angeles Times) claims that the show “approaches suicide with touching comic sincerity,” and The New York Times called it “Raindrops on Roses for the potentially suicidal”—which raised a few red flags for me. Once again glancing at my calendar, I realized that I would need to figure out a way to tie the play into a “Star Wars”-based party at the E.B. Crawford Library, a motorcycle cavalcade roaring through town and a fundraiser (what else is new?) for the Sullivan County SPCA, all of which took place last week—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Schneider’s deep connection to the material was prevalent throughout the production, which relies on interaction with her audience and an inherent ability to connect with them on multiple levels. Based on a child’s desire to persuade her severely depressed mother that there is a myriad of reasons (vanilla ice cream, Christopher Walken’s voice) to savor life, it begins easily enough with a scrap of paper left on Mom’s pillow and balloons, transitioning to a years-long list, much of which is read aloud by members of the audience. The piece is unusual in many ways and, as performed by Schneider, thoughtful, powerful, emotional and meaningful. For reasons that I won’t go into here, I also found the play to be deeply personal, and while I acknowledge that there is humor to be mined from the very well-written play, I’m still undecided on whether (or not) I found it to be “uplifting.” My advice? Go see it on July 29 at the Sullivan County Historical Museum in Hurleyville and get back to me. Call 845/794-1029 for more information.
Truth be told, I spent the following days a little depressed—but as many of you know, I’m Jewish, so I’ve had plenty of practice. If ever there was a way to lift my spirits, it might be immersing myself in a room filled with youngsters celebrating “Star Wars Day” (May the fourth be with you) at the library (www.ebcl.org), where I couldn’t help but smile, faced with the vast array of activities that the staff had put together for the kids. Between making their own lightsabers, participating in trivia contests, lining up for “Jedi Training” instruction, or simply enjoying treats with names like Yoda Soda and Wookiee Cookies, everyone (including the dog) had a blast. Don’t worry, there were healthy snacks as well (fruit sabers), but I think the Death Star Donuts were probably the first to go.
Each of the kids had their favorite Star Wars character, the tables were laden with books and DVDs devoted to the subject, and the parents were equally enthusiastic regarding the library’s programs. “He’s homeschooled, so it’s important that he have this kind of social interaction,” Collen Hindley said of her son, Dominic. “The library has fantastic programs,” she continued. “Sometimes we come twice a week.”
Back on my home turf, I grabbed the camera and zipped over to Bethel Woods, where nearly 200 motorcycle enthusiasts had stopped to tour the museum en route to North Carolina. They were part of the 2018 Kyle Petty Charity Ride, which helps send kids to Victory Junction, a camp founded in memory of race car driver (www.kylepettycharityride.com) Adam Petty. Decked out in tie-dyed T-shirts and snaking their way down Route 17B, the bikers were hard to miss and happy to spend a bit of time in Bethel before continuing their journey. It had begun in Maine, attracting bikers from all over the country. Meanwhile, indoors at the Event Gallery, local celebrities Cathy Paty and Slam Allen were taking the stage to help raise much needed funds for the animals (www.sullivanspca.org) housed in Rock Hill, which both Dharma and I were happy to support.
Looking back on a week filled with the highs and lows of mixed emotions, I thought of Mom. “You’re gonna get hurt,” she would say, “if you always wear your heart on your sleeve. Sometimes you gotta buck up—and put on a happy face.”