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Beneath the Surface of Every Brillant Thing

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I’ve been watching a lot of the heartwarming television drama This Is Us on Amazon Prime and after almost every episode, I find myself bawling my eyes out from its stories of love and loss. I told my mom to watch it, too. After she saw it, she said to me, “It’s so depressing! Why do you want to watch that?”

Set of Every Brilliant Thing; with the ever brilliant Teresa Herrera-Anthony

Set of Every Brilliant Thing; with the ever brilliant Teresa Herrera-Anthony

The same could be said for the latest thought-provoking play to hit Manila, Every Brilliant Thing written by Duncan McMillan, produced by the independent theater company, The Sandbox Collective in cooperation with 9 Works Theatrical and directed by Jenny Jamora, which is now on a second extension of five performances from March 15 to 17, 2019 at the Maybank Theater.

Sandbox executive producer Toff de Venecia invited me to watch one of its earliest previews. I had no idea what the play was about, until someone told me it was about depression. When you are invited to watch a play about depression—chances are, you would totally think twice before watching it, unlike say Wicked or even Stomp!. Do I want to watch something about depression? Don’t I use entertainment as a form of escapism instead of confronting reality? Who wants to pay good money to feel bad?

I did.

I watched it, and just loved the performance of the multi-hyphenated talent Teresa Herrera-Anthony, who played Angela, the protagonist in the story who is dealing with her mother’s mental illness. She balanced the incredibly sweet to possibly obsessive and back again in this one-woman show, and I appreciated that sometimes the one who has the mental illness is sometimes the last to realize it.


Number 2: spaghetti!; Teresa enlists the help of 2 audience members to help her scene


The set design by Marta Lovina scattered old records, books, and boardgames amongst the audience, making us feel like we were all part of the scene, and this was just the beginning. Before the play began, production randomly passed out little scraps of paper to members of the audience for us to read aloud sometime during the play. It was a part of the Angela’s list of every brilliant thing that she could think of to remind her mother there was a lot to enjoy in the world, and as her way to help cheer her up. “Number one!” shouted Angela, who was a young girl. “Ice cream!” said an anonymous voice in response. The list went on and on, as Angela became older and older, the list would get longer and longer. Teresa chose members from the audience to play various supporting characters such as a vet, her dad, and even the love of her life.

This added a bit of lightheartedness to an otherwise heavy subject, and of course, titillated the audience, knowing that we too were in on the secret. Because of this, no two plays will ever be the same. Just as no two answers were read the same way—some people shouted their item on the list, others mumbled theirs (someone shouted out, “Essential oils!” as part of the list, and I ended up giving a not-so-little whoop).


Open forum: Director Jenny Jamora, and Sandbox Co’s Kakki Teodoro, and Toff de Venecia all listen to Dr Tofi de Jesus’ insight on mental health breakdown


After the play, an open forum was held with the audience and psychiatrist Dr. Tofi de Jesus to discuss, well, depression. Director Jenny Jamora sat with the audience and also divulged that she too had to deal with major depression—though you wouldn’t be able to tell at all, looking at the perky, petite, pixie-cut theater veteran. But this is exactly why depression is a silent killer. It’s not as obvious as say, cancer, but it’s more common than you think and there definitely is no easy, one-size-fits-all cure. I applaud Every Brilliant Thing for opening up the discussion about mental health and that it’s OK to not be OK.

Mental health is the big elephant in the room of every Filipino household.

It’s a big misconception that Filipinos are one big happy group of people. After all, our country slogan is: “It’s More Fun in the Philippines.” Beyond our happy façade, deep underneath are all the issues we aren’t allowed to discuss because being depressed simply isn’t tolerated. On social media we see that everyone’s lives are great. It makes others uncomfortable to hear that you are going through a hard time and aren’t coping well. But the truth is, some people just don’t handle life’s curveballs as graciously as others, and it’s these people we need to pay the most attention to.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and that over 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression globally, 18% higher than the previous decade of 2005-15. Because of the stigma that comes with mental disorders, there is a definite lack of support for people with depression. Without support, there is no treatment, and without treatment, suicide becomes the only answer for depression.

In the Philippines, mental illness and mental retardation ranks third and fourth among the different types of disabilities in the country as stated here. A 2011 WHO Global School-Based Health Survey says16% of students between 13-15 years old who have seriously considered attempting suicide while 13% has actually attempted it.

My sister Margie and I with our friend and Every Brilliant Thing set designer, Marta Lovina

My sister Margie and I with our friend and Every Brilliant Thing set designer, Marta Lovina

Pay attention to your kids.

Turn your face away from the digital screen and get outside and play.

Be aware that sometimes things aren’t what they seem.

Don’t shy away from seeking help for loved ones, or for yourself.

Watch Every Brilliant Thing with your friend, sister, or child.

For those in the Philippines dealing with depression or other mental issues and find they have no one to talk to, you can always anonymously call The Hopeline, 24/7 at numbers +632 804-4673 and 0917-558-4673, through the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation.

To buy tickets for Every Brilliant Thing log onto or call 0956-200-4909 or visit IG @thesandboxco.


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