“A comedy about suicide.”
Since its debut performance nearly seven years ago, that tongue-in-cheek tagline has followed “Every Brilliant Thing” through reviews, marketing material, and more.
Asked his feelings about the label in a 2014 Theatremania interview with David Gordon, playwright Duncan Macmillan hesitated: “A comedy about suicide…I don’t know what I’d make of that as a logline. It’s far more complicated.”
And yet, there’s no denying the humor deftly woven through even the heaviest moments of the script. Later in the same interview, Macmillan acknowledges that “the gesture behind the show is to find the way to talk about the most serious things you could talk about in a way that isn’t serious…In the media, depression in general is either treated as a complete taboo…or it’s glamorized.”
The Ent Center for the Arts and Theatreworks at UCCS have partnered with the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience on this production of “Every Brilliant Thing,” and Kathryn Dosch, Director of the Veterans Health and Trauma Clinic, confirms Macmillan’s observation.
“It’s hard to talk about these kinds of things,” Dosch said. “There is a misconception that says if you talk about suicide, you’ll make people commit suicide, but that’s not scientifically based in any way. We have to talk about these things so people feel comfortable addressing them.”
Making a subject like suicide “comfortable” to discuss, while an important goal, challenges our cultural approach to the subject in a significant way. That said, there are tools to help open the subject, including humor, a sense of community, and a willingness to connect.
In that sense, “Every Brilliant Thing” is a powerful tool to promote resilience amongst artists and viewers alike. The play subverts that popular portrayal of depression, and breaks the implied cone of silence, offering irreverence and humanity in place of taboo and dramatization. It’s a simple premise, but it taps into the psychological relationship between humor and trauma, offering a portrait of grief and depression that’s at once approachable, compassionate, and yes, even funny.
Despite opposite associations, trauma and comedy both stem from disrupted expectations and subjective perspective on events, but as trauma responds to those factors with isolation, comedy takes the same factors and offers connection. In that respect, they complement each other.
Robust literature supports the positive relationship between a sense of community and trauma recovery. Dosch synthesizes the relationship as she discusses the Lyda Hill Institute’s key goals: “(We) help people heal from trauma, but we also help people develop resilience so they can withstand trauma when it comes: having goals, finding humor in life, giving yourself grace are important things to incorporate into your world to increase resilience and ability to cope,” she said.
Therein lies the power of “Every Brilliant Thing.” While ostensibly about suicide, the action of the play centers laughter, gratitude and the power of human connection, offering audiences space to communally process, growing resilience, not only for individuals, but for communities as a whole.
We hope you’ll join us to experience the warmth, compassion and humor of “Every Brilliant Thing”, running between November 26th and December 19th at the Ent Center for the Arts at UCCS. Learn more about tickets and information online.