Marianne DonnellyMarianne Donnelly 500

By Marianne Donnelly
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By Marianne Donnelly
syndicated reviewer

Art Square Theatre's resident company, Cockroach Theatre, in collaboration with the Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention, offers, "Every Brilliant Thing," by Duncan MacMillan (with Jonny Donahoe) through September 30th in their beautiful black-box theatre.

It is symbolically fitting that a play about resilience and creativity when dealing with a loved one's depressive suicidality is playing in a theatre whose symbol is one of  adaptability, tenacity, courage and indestructiveness. Yes, the cockroach is a symbol of surviving against all challenges (even nuclear blasts) and is revered in many cultures for that. 

In his script introduction MacMillan says, "Every Brilliant Thing" is a collaboration between myself, George Perrin, and Jonny Donahoe. It is an adaptation of my short story "Sleeve Notes." George and I worked for over a decade to turn it into a full-length play. The play wouldn’t exist were it not for George’s persistence...

It owes a particular debt to Jonny Donahoe, who drawing upon his experience as a stand-up comedian, found ways to tell the story using audience participation that George and I couldn’t have conceived of. By its nature, the play is different every night and, as such, Jonny essentially co-authored the play while performing it..."

MacMillan wants to communicate to people "You’re not alone, you’re not weird, you will get through it, and you’ve just got to hold on." 
He didn’t see anyone discussing suicidal depression in a useful, interesting or accurate way and from this realization he created this joyful, touching, funny and wonderful play.

Indeed, one line in particular is said with great weight and precise timing, "For those of you in the audience, who might be considering suicide, I have one important message, Don't Do It!" 

This one-person show, deceptively demanding by it's participatory nature, requires an actor who can maintain pace while playing off unexpected qualities of chosen participants. It requires intense energy, lightening quick adaptability and an etherial je ne sais quoi. All these rare talents shine in Marcus Weiss' tour de force as the Narrator. 

Marcus landed in Las Vegas when cast in Blue Man Group at the Luxor in 2000. According to Backstage,"he is a New York native, grew up in Zurich, Switzerland and earned a Dartmouth Master of Fine Arts. Marcus worked in children's theater, off-Broadway plays, and even dressed as gorilla for $75 an hour. He also did a good deal of voice-over work, using German fluency to his advantage..."

Mr. Weiss, as quoted in The Guardian, says "Theatre at its best is incredibly direct and incredibly interventionist..." 

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Marcus Weiss - Photo credit Richard Brusky

Throughout the play, audience members are invited to play short moments as various characters. They are prompted by "brilliant things" from cue cards.  Marcus has to work with what he’s given and the spontaneity of these interactions is a central element of the show. 

Appreciating quotidian experiences is the bedrock of enjoying life. There is comfort in daily routines and simple pleasures. Indeed, the list of items to live for in "Every Brilliant Thing" is familiar to us all.

The Narrator compiles the list of brilliant things, over the course of his life--from little boy experiencing mother's first failed suicide attempt, to his post marital days and a final certain reality-- and it runs into a million items from, number one, "ice cream," to "sleeping late" "dancing in public fearlessly" to number one-million, "playing a new record." We laugh and sigh and even cry at the items on the brilliant-thing list. 

MacMillan's script is remarkably adept at giving advice, in short bursts, that really has value while not sounding preachy, such as the section where Narrator quotes from the Samaritans' advice to reporters on how to handle a story about a suicide: Don’t provide technical details, avoid dramatic headlines, avoid sensationalist pictures or video, avoid using the word ‘commit’. Don’t publish suicide notes. Don’t publish on the front page. Don’t ignore the complex realities. Include references to support groups. Don’t speculate on the reason..."

Samaritans is based on the belief that well-trained "lay persons" are in an ideal position to "befriend" many of those in crisis by providing immediate, caring, response steeped in empathetic listening. Befrienders International, the umbrella organization formed as an outgrowth, currently oversees 400 suicide prevention centers in 42 countries. Befrienders encourages "friending" people who are suicidal, despairing, or in distress, and to increase awareness of factors contributing to suicide and the means of preventing it. The Samaritans movement spread to the U.S. with the involvement of Monica Dickens, granddaughter of Charles Dickens, in 1968. 

This one hour show is subtly and fluidly directed by Jane Walsh, who teaches theatre at College of Southern Nevada.  She has worked as a voice over artist and currently works part-time for Dignity Health in the Palliative Care Department.

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Jane Walsh

As quoted in Eat More Art Vegas, Jane says, "I've had the great privilege of audiences sharing how past performances have affected them. As a performance artist, my intention is to tell the story with honesty and integrity. It's my prayer that the work will create a new perspective or discovery, provide some kind of healing or just take them on an unexpected journey..."

Reading materials regarding recognizing signs of a potentially suicidal person, as well as, What You Can Do, are available in the lobby of Art Square Theatre. 

All of us can help heal each other with the simple acts of, greeting, smiling, listening, laughing, asking, probing, sharing, caring, hugging, and being more aware of those around us. "It takes a Village to raise a child" and also to keep those villagers here! Suicide is something we all can do something about. 

Volunteers from The Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention are in the lobby before and after each show and they conduct a talk-back after matinees. 

Know that 800-273-8255 is available to coordinate counseling as is local 211. 

This is a tween-friendly show and is a perfect opportunity to raise this sensitive topic with young people who are increasingly isolated and bombarded by living challenges.  Because the rate of suicide has climbed dramatically in the United States over the last decade, this is a particularly relevant show. 

Cockroach Theatre, now in it's fifteenth year, has continuing sponsorship from Jaguar Land Rover and many others. It consistently embraces new playwrights and materials covering a wide array of deep topics.

This season's theme is, "stories that bring us together," with, "The Dog, The Cat," "Accidental Death of an Anarchist," "Sweat," and "Santango." 

Collaborations include, with Sin City Opera, "Gianni Schicchi, by Puccini," with Opera Las Vegas, "27: Stein and Toklas host Picasso, Fitzgerald, Matisse and Hemingway."

They also host Rainbow Company Youth Theatre classes in their comfortable space and throughout the year often add various events to round out the season.  

Cockroach Theatre is located at 1025 South First Street #110 Las Vegas, NV 89101 
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