Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Mars Assignment. It was written and directed by Ronan Marra and co-created with Elsa Hiltner. It was about a family and the people around them and the ways mental illness affects their lives. The Mars assignment is a presentation that the daughter of the family, Alison (McKenzie Franklin), is doing for her school. And she is having a hard time because she is depressed but nobody is sure yet and her parents don't have the tools to help her. All the characters, except maybe the teacher (Joseph Galizia) are struggling to be happy. The mom, Amy (Kristin E. Ellis) has anxiety and she deals with that through smoking. The dad, Eric (Joe McCauley) has depression. Diane (Georgann Charuhas) is trying to help herself through her depression with comedy, and she is the person who Amy is managing at the moment. Jeff (Justin Wade Wilson) is a coworker of Eric and is having a hard time at work because he is depressed. This play was trying to make mental illnesses not just be something to make the plot more interesting, but more realistic. I think it is useful because it is a more realistic depiction of what depression is. I think I might have been more intrigued by the play if there had been higher stakes, but I do understand what they were trying to get across.
I really liked the depression comedy routine that Diane puts on. She is going on tour and running it past Amy. It is not just funny, it also shares a part of her life from when she was little and she first realized she didn't feel right. But she didn't realize she was depressed until she was 35. Why would someone do a comedy routine about feeling sad? Because it helps them to feel better and it helps them to feel like they've been seen and heard. And also the audience feels okay to laugh because the person felt like they could talk about it. I think there is a very strong connection between her performance and her depression, because it seems like the comedy is healing her and helping her to get through it. Feeling like you are trapped inside of a box and can't get out when you are only 8 isn't funny; it is actually very sad. That part of her story really moved me. The fact that she is turning it into comedy makes me think that she is learning to manage her sadness.
I thought the mother-daughter relationship was adorable. They had their own little secret handshake which was very cute. They seemed to also be best friends, but then the mom was really bossy sometimes because I think she really loved her daughter and wanted the best for her. The mom had a speech where she was listing all the things she had done wrong as a parent and saying that Diane thought that. That speech was funny but also kind of sad at the same time because you could see that she felt like she did not help her daughter enough so she would be ready for life.
They would repeat this one scene multiple times and each one would be focused on a different person. The first one was with Amy and she was putting a lot of papers together and putting stuff in her daughter's backpack. And then she gets on her phone and starts talking with Diane. She talks about how it is okay that Diane completely rewrote her script because she is the one who has to perform it. And then she starts talking about how Allison has to do her presentation well. And she is also talking about how Allison and Eric are taking such a long time to get ready. And then Allison shows up. The next time we hear these lines again, Allison is sitting and reading a book and overhears all that her mom is saying. And the next portrayal of the scene is when the dad is getting ready to go and he seems sad. That is the very last scene of the show and I think he was depressed. I think they repeated this scene so many times because they wanted to show different sides of the story. They could have put all the characters on stage for the first scene, and that might have been more interesting to me. I wanted all the sides to the story, but I would have liked it to be less repetitive.
People who would like this show are people who like comedy routines, realistic depictions of depression, and cute secret handshakes. I feel like this show really got its message across, and I hope it will help a lot of people.
Photos: Joel Maisonet