Behind the wheel: Jake Cuenca and lead actress Teresa Herrera do an improv during press launch for Sandbox Collective’s Every Brilliant Thing, opening at Maybank Performing Arts Theater this February 2.
Talking Cure
THE X-PAT FILES - Scott Garceau (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2019 - 12:00am

As actress, model and Project Runway Philippines host Teresa Herrera broke through the fourth wall and reached out to me while I was videoing her monologue for Every Brilliant Thing, I realized I was about to be dragged onstage. Sure enough, I was soon playing a veterinarian in an improv scene, preparing to put down her character’s dog, Sherlock Bones — represented by another audience member’s leather jacket — with a hypodermic needle.

 

Earlier, audience members (or rather, press peeps gathered at Privato Hotel) had been handed slips of paper with words or phrases — “ice cream,” “the color yellow,” “roller coasters,” “staying up late and being allowed to watch TV” — which they were told to shout out on cue, all representing little things that make life worth living.

Another young woman in the audience was cajoled onstage, asked to remove her shoe and use her sock as a puppet to do some improv dialogue. (I’m glad I went up before she did.)

Director Jenny Jamora: “I think the playwright (Macmillan) wanted to talk about these issues in a comedic way, because he doesn’t find bleakness or sentimentality helpful.”

This is how it goes in Duncan Macmillan’s interactive one-woman play. The Sandbox Collective show opens Feb. 2 at Zobel de Ayala Recital Hall, Maybank Performing Arts Theater. Directed by Jenny Jamora, it’s an ultimately uplifting drama about a young girl coping with her mom’s suicidal depression by making a list of the “brilliant” things in life. Macmillan — whose previous play Lungs was also staged by Sandbox — wrote Every Brilliant Thing to connect with audiences through improv-style interaction, and to help people feel more at home in their own skins. “I didn’t see anyone discussing suicidal depression in a useful or interesting or accurate way,” he told The Guardian, adding he wanted to communicate that “You’re not alone, you’re not weird, you will get through it, and you’ve just got to hold on. That’s a very uncool, unfashionable thing for someone to say, but I really mean it.”

It may sound a bit serioso, but Herrera and director Jamora promise the show is loaded with humor. Herrera, whose breathless monologues capture the perspective of a young girl trying to keep a lengthy chronicle of the good stuff, notes “the heart-wrenching and the hilarious are really side by side, which is life.” Jamora agrees the play is “a lot of fun,” and that Macmillan “wanted to talk about these issues in a comedic way, because he doesn’t find bleakness or sentimentality helpful. He wants that balance.”

Another strategy built into Every Brilliant Thing is the audience reach-out.

Jamora said it’s a Brechtian technique, to pause in the middle of action to confront the audience’s feelings without resorting to sentimentality. I definitely got that onstage, as Teresa reminded me not to laugh, because “a vet giving a lethal shot to a dog would never be laughing.” (Though it turns out that exchange is already built into the Macmillan script, so it’s not really “improv.”)

Sandbox Collective’s Christopher De Venecia and Sab Jose: “The interactive approach is a tool to convey this issue in a positive, uplifting way.”

Sandbox artistic director and Pangasinan Rep. Christopher De Venecia and actress Sab Jose hosted the press launch. According to De Venecia, the interaction is “a positive tool to convey this issue in a positive, uplifting way.” Part of the goal of the show, according to De Venecia, is to hold “talkbacks” after each performance with mental health professionals to discuss issues from the play and help people reach out.

The play’s producers agree the stigma surrounding mental illness in the Philippines continues to hold people back from seeking help. “The pressure is so great, and bottling it up is actually debilitating,” says De Venecia.

Sab’s sister Bettina, founder of Spring Philippines, added: “Mental health is normal life, everyday activities. It’s not about being happy all the time, it’s about feeling that whole range of emotions, embracing it, and being able to respond to it.”

Expect to be (literally) drawn into the play.

*   *   *

Every Brilliant Thing opens at Zobel de Ayala Recital Hall, Maybank Performing Arts Theater, 26th St. cor. 9th Ave., BGC, this Feb. 2. Tickets now available through ticketworld.com.ph. Contact 0956-200-4909.

EVERY BRILLIANT THING JAKE CUENCA PROJECT RUNWAY PHILIPPINES TERESA HERRERA
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