Sometimes art can take us places we fear to tread.
Such is the case with Grandstreet Theatre’s latest show -- “Every Brilliant Thing,” which opens 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 16.
At first take, the idea of going to a play about depression might scare or even repel some of us.
But prepare to be surprised.
That’s not where the play intends to take you.
It’s about a 7-year-old child who starts writing a list of “every brilliant thing” in life worth living for so she can share it with her suicidal mother “who’s done something stupid.”
The Narrator in this powerful one-woman show is Helena native Rosie Seitz Ayers, who’s a professional actor, director and also a stand-up and improv comic.
In fact, her years doing comedy have been perfect training for doing this play, which has been called “hilarious” and “uplifting” by critics.
Grandstreet’s project manager Dee Smith, who’s been working the rehearsals says, “This script has the power to change people’s lives even in their darkest moments.”
Grandstreet chose this edgy, critically acclaimed play not only for its outstanding script but because the story couldn’t cut closer to the heart for many Montanans.
Montana has among the highest per capita suicide rates in the country -- typically ranking in the top five during the past 40 years.
Who in their own circle of family and friends has not been touched by depression or suicide?
Not only do we often NOT want to talk about it, we certainly don’t think to laugh about it.
Despite our preconceived ideas -- this play makes for gripping theater, say all involved.
“It just captivated me as soon as I got it,” said Ayers of the script. “I could not stop reading it.”
Once hooked, she knew she wanted to be in the play, she said.
Co-written by a stand-up comic, Jonny Donahoe, it’s a mix of poignant storytelling, humor and levity.
“This is one woman’s pathway to the deeper complexities of her own family,” said director John Rausch.
The list of brilliant things Ayers, starts out writing at age 7 -- ice cream, water fights and the color yellow -- grows and grows over time.
From the pleasures of childhood, it continues -- including falling in love, discovering jazz and hearing the voice of Nina Simone.
Audience members, who are recruited before the play begins, pitch in to read lines from the script as they become stand-ins for every role from The Narrator’s dad, to the family vet and the school counselor.
“It’s very charming,” said artistic director Jeff Downing, “and it creates this dynamic where the rest of the audience roots for them. ...And somehow it creates this universality to the story. It’s a really clever way to get people to open up and listen in a different way.”
As the list continues through the years “it profoundly affects the course of her life,” he said.
“I think it will have a positive impact on our audiences.”
People start to think what would be on their list and see the importance of looking for brilliant things.
“The role allows for a healthy amount of improvisation,” noted Downing, adding that Ayers has to react to what the audience gives her.
“We have a fabulous comedian and improv artist in the role.”
The result is no two shows are alike, said Ayers.
Ayers loves not only the script, but the music, which she calls “glorious,”
“The music is so emotionally available,” she said. It pulls the audience deeply into an emotion quickly.
The play is not a cure for depression or suicide, said Downing, but “it makes a positive contribution” to discussing this topic.
“Suicide is a major topic in our state,” he said. “Our numbers are incredibly high among national statistics. Suicide hit our theater school.
“When you find a play like this -- are you truly a community theater if we pass on it? We had no choice but to produce this play. It makes the topic so accessible and the experience is so joyful”
The play written by Duncan MacMillan and Donahoe received glowing reviews in England, where it debuted, and also the United States.
“‘Every Brilliant Thing’ finds a perfect balance between conveying the struggles of life and celebrating all that is sweet in it,” wrote The Independent of London.
“(A)heart-wrenching, hilarious play. ...One of the funniest plays you’ll ever see about depression -- and possibly one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see, full stop,” concurred The Guardian.
Performance dates are Thursday, Sept. 6-Sunday, Sept. 16; Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m
Tickets are $24 Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings; $20 Wednesday evenings and Sunday matinees; $16 kids 18 and under. Note: mature content.
Grandstreet received a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana grant to also tour the show around Montana in the coming year.
“The beauty of ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is that it takes the same impulse that people have toward spiraling downward and changes the direction,” said Grandstreet managing director Kal Poole.
“This show encourages spiraling up and becoming obsessed with gratitude and beauty in everyday moments.”
For tickets, call the Grandstreet Box Office (afternoons): 447-1574 or order online at www.GrandstreetTheatre.com. Grandstreet Theatre is at 325 N. Park Ave.