Theater

Play looks at issues surrounding suicide

A 2014 play performed by Rita O'Connell tackles a difficult subject

By Rick Romancito
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 2/7/19

New Mexico lawmakers will soon be considering House Bill 90, a new law that may allow what proponents call "medical aid in dying," otherwise known as assisted suicide. Starting Thursday …

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Theater

Play looks at issues surrounding suicide

A 2014 play performed by Rita O'Connell tackles a difficult subject

Posted

New Mexico lawmakers will soon be considering House Bill 90, a new law that may allow what proponents call "medical aid in dying," otherwise known as assisted suicide. Starting Thursday (Feb. 7), a Taos actor is planning the performance of a play that looks at the subject, but from a very different perspective.

According to a Jan. 27 story by Andrew Oxford in The Santa Fe New Mexican, "the bill would provide a certain measure of freedom to terminally ill patients struggling with some of the most intimate decisions anyone can face. But opponents argue New Mexico's law lacks the sort of safeguards other states have adopted and, more broadly, could ultimately change how we all view death." At present, New Mexico law prohibits anyone from deliberately aiding another person in taking their own life.

Suicide is nothing to take lightly, but light is exactly what needs to be shone upon the issues it raises. Take the 2014 play titled "Every Brilliant Thing," developed by writer Duncan MacMillan and British comedian Johnny Donohoe, which will be performed as a one-woman theatrical performance by Rita O'Connell today through Sunday (Feb. 7-10), 7:30 p.m., at Ennui Gallery, 134 Bent Street in Taos.

The play is being sponsored by Help Outreach Taos, with which local pastor and activist Jill Cline is associated. In a statement, Cline says, "Help Outreach Taos is thrilled to support the New Mexico premier of 'Every Brilliant Thing.' Living in a county where the statistics for suicides are four times higher than the national average, HOT encourages all means of addressing the stigma of mental health issues before reaching what may only feel like a life or death choice in a person's mind. The ability to address such a sensitive subject with humor and compassion is necessary for open conversations and long-term solutions."

Tempo asked O'Connell what drew her to performing this piece?

Rita O'Connell: A number of us in the theater community here have been reading new plays lately, trying to find and produce contemporary works that speak to us and this moment we're living in. When Ned [Dougherty] told me he'd found a new one-person comedy about suicide, I think I knew we were going to go for it before I even read the script. My life has been touched by suicide more than once -- as is true of so many members of our community, especially in recent years. I also typically struggle most with my own depression during these winter months. "Every Brilliant Thing" is a delightfully deft piece of theater, bringing joy and light to these incredibly difficult subjects; the opportunity to look at those things through my art, and invite the community to join me in doing so, was impossible to pass up.

Tempo: What do you hope audiences will take away after seeing it?

O'Connell: I hope thoughts of the list will linger, and that folks will spend at least a few days tallying up some of their own "Brilliant Things."

Tempo: Being that the play is about a "life lived in the shadow of suicide," how do you think it balances the fine line between drama and comedy?

O'Connell: What I love about the writing of this play is that it doesn't have any of the snarkiness or irony that so many modern comedians rely on. In a really cynical age, the playwright Duncan Macmillan, and Johnny Donahoe, the comedian he worked with to develop it, have leaned on clean, clever, even earnest humor instead of cheap jokes, which is of course essential given the subject matter. I read an interview with Macmillan wherein he explained that the piece was specifically conceived to be funny, honest, unsentimental and done in the round with the lights on -- literally -- so that everyone can feel sort of safely held together as we tackle what can be rather scary, dark subjects. The audience will all be able to see each other, as well as me, the whole time, so the catharsis (and the balance) comes of the togetherness, I think.

But you know, as they say, "Dying is easy -- it's comedy that's hard," so we'll see how this all goes once the show begins!

Tempo: Lastly, can you give me some background on the show's director Chelsea Reidy, Ned Dougherty and yourself?

O'Connell: Chelsea Reidy has had 100 lives, but she is currently the interim manager of the Taos Community Auditorium. She's a relative newcomer to the world of theater, but since she began playing with theater people here in Taos a few years ago she's essentially given herself a master class in technical theater and direction and is now one of the more skilled theatrical creatures I know.

Ned Dougherty is a high school history teacher who is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree in playwriting.

As for me, the theater is my first love. I've been acting since childhood, trained mostly in the musical theater. I wander in and out of other pursuits - I'm a singer, and a writer, and a nonprofit consultant, and I recently got a master's in public advocacy and activism from the National University of Ireland in Galway -- but every time I come back to the stage, I know I'm home.

Jazzmine Freedom is stage manager and Gina Gargone is producer. Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors and students. For more information or reservations, call (575) 737-8574.

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