One-person play addresses issue of mental health, suicide from perspective of family member determined to find the positive

If you can trust a stranger enough to step out of your comfort zone and participate in a theater production, perhaps it speaks to anyone's ability to trust someone, a stranger, an acquaintance, a loved one, to take their hand and step back from a ledge, real or metaphorical.

Whether that was the intent of Jonny Donahoe and Duncan Macmillan, who penned “Every Brilliant Thing,”it's an interesting dynamic to ponder.

“Every Brilliant Thing” which Available Light Theatre presents through this weekend at the Vanderelli Room, is a one-person play that follows a character from childhood to adulthood as she builds a list of things worth living for as a means of coping with her mother's mental illness and eventual suicide. The play has an “immersive quality” for audience members, AVLT director Whitney Thomas Eads said. The concept is that the audience helps the play circle back to the list every so often, all the while building a sense of community.

“The idea of a community of strangers coming together to support someone they don't even know, that is a brilliant thing,” Eads said.

Actor Acacia Duncan navigates the life of the play's sole formal character, a character committed to this method of coping with the specter of mental illness and how it impacted her life. “Every Brilliant Thing” begins with her as a 7-year-old and follows her through adulthood.

“There has to be a real balance,” Duncan said. “I'm always aware of how much I'm revealing. I'm constantly asking, ‘Would a 7-year-old think about it that way as opposed to being an adult who's had a little bit of therapy?' Or, ‘How would I as a teenager have felt about something?'”

It's the way that Duncan brings the audience along on her journey, sometimes via direct engagement, that addresses that issue of trust, Eads said, including both moments of lighthearted laughter and empathetic tears.

“I have to be completely honest at all times. It's not the same as putting on a character the way an actor normally would,” Duncan said. “The most brilliant thing in the world is when you feel connected to another person.”

In addition to hosting the production, the Vanderelli Room is also currently exhibiting “Outsiders,” a group exhibition in which artists created work that depicts mental illness in an intensely personal way.

“We're telling one person's story. To have it surrounded by all these other personal experiences is unique, [serving as a reminder] that each of our experiences is different,” Eads said. “The play is never saying, ‘This is the way it should be.'”