The lights will be on throughout. There's nowhere to hide. In Every Brilliant Thing about to open at Main Street Theater a solo performer holds the stage for 75 minutes as a character talking about depression and the effect her suicidal mother had on her life.
Despite the subject matter — and yes there's sadness — there's humor, hope and joy worked into the mix. Above all it celebrates resiliency.
Shannon Emerick is both producer and actor in the one-act play by Duncan Macmillan. Although this is being staged at Main Street Theater in Rice Village and directed by Main Street's Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden, it is not an MST production, but part of this year's Houston Equity Festival.
Her character is the daughter of a mother who was suicidal, Emerick says. She’s on her own process of discovery, trying to balance her own depression and joys. Little is known about her exterior life. We don’t know what she does for a living or what her day to day routine is. "She can be any age," says Emerick. "The part can be played as a man or a woman."
The play recaps her story starting when she was 7 and her mother first attempted suicide and her daughter began making a list of good things such as Wonder Woman and spaghetti with meatballs. It goes through high school and college and into her life as she is now. It could take place anywhere; it’s really just meant to be we’re right here right now, Emerick says.
"For the last two years I had a chance to work on a couple of pieces — readings of Lauren Gunderson's The Taming on Trump's Inauguration Day and the one-woman show she wrote Natural Shocks which we did on National School Walkout Day in relation to gun violence. Those were the first times I've ever done plays — I've always worked on plays that speak to the human experience — but there was a different component to those that really resonated with me. Connecting with the community on a bigger level I guess. People across the nation did readings on those days."
When she did the reading of Natural Shocks it was the first time she had ever done a one-person set, despite more than 20 years of professional experience, Emerick says. "You stretch different acting muscles." So she was ready for something more — an actual staged performance — when she read the script for Every Brilliant Thing at the suggestion of Main Street Theater Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden. Udden had seen the play performed elsewhere and agreed to direct Emerick in Houston.
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There were other things that were new to Emerick in the endeavor. "I hadn’t explored the world of suicide before this play. I learned an immense amount about it and what it takes to get to that point," she says.
What she appreciated about playwright MacMillan's approach was that it wasn't from the standpoint of an "issues" play but told in an approachable manner. "The play shares a story and a way in for us to talk about and explore some hard things and some joy."
And in that sharing, members of the audience will be called upon for their comments and observations about what is happening from time to time. Emerick hastens to explain though that no one will be embarrassed and that what she is about to perform isn't improv but a scripted play. It just has points at which the audience members can expect to chime in. But don't worry. There will be notes.
Performances are scheduled for September 18 through October 5 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays and 3 p.m. Saturdays at Main Street Theater- Rice Village, 2540 Times Boulevard. For information call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreetheater.com. Or purchase online. $15-$25.