MENTAL asks 'What if I could be Understood?'

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every production at The Arts at Center Street…as an audience member. Actually participating in a play, however, is not something I ever envisioned myself doing. Adopting a persona that’s not your own and displaying it in a believable manner is vulnerable and intimidating – especially before a watching crowd with high expectations. It’s one thing to memorize the lines; it’s a whole other matter to embody the spirit of the character and then accurately contribute to the meaning of the story. I was excited for the challenge, and deeply grateful to Gregg Garner, the writer and director of Mental, for trusting me with the role of Eddie. This experience was wonderful and I can’t overemphasize how rewarding it was.

Strong bonds are formed when people work together in a venue like the arts. It’s powerful being part of a team of people who are all striving toward the same goal, enduring painful failures along the way, trying again, and again, and again, and then …finally…nailing it. These kinds of victories are rewarding on a personal level, but even more, in the context of doing it together, with people you love. Even in the midst of failures, when you’re surrounded by people who believe in you, it makes even the most humiliating moments productive, and even fun.

Brandon's character Eddie, has a complicated relationship with the Clark family.  He is one of the multiple characters that helps highlight the 'functional dysfunctionality of the human experience', a goal of Garner's throughout.  

Brandon's character Eddie, has a complicated relationship with the Clark family.  He is one of the multiple characters that helps highlight the 'functional dysfunctionality of the human experience', a goal of Garner's throughout.  

My experience with the Arts can’t be separated from the message of this particular play itself. Getting the chance to see the play from the inside, hearing the lines over and over again in practice, allows you to explore the depth of the characters, their dialogues with one another, and their experiences. I was able to consider not only my character, but the other characters in the story. What made them the way they are?

Quite naturally, these considerations led us, cast members, to reflect on our own lives, even processing familial experiences with one another. Looking back on the cast I would say that not all of our relationships came easy. But in the process of realizing that we are all “the sum of many parts,” (as Dr. Adam says in the play), patience and understanding replaced what used to be annoyance or distaste. I bonded with the cast in a way that I won’t forget. In the process of dramatizing a family’s experience, we became family ourselves (or closer family than we were before).

The Clark family and their network display an array of characters that most audience members can connect with on some level.  This creates for a reflective experience as most have dealt with the complicated dynamics of family.  

The Clark family and their network display an array of characters that most audience members can connect with on some level.  This creates for a reflective experience as most have dealt with the complicated dynamics of family.  

A play like Mental challenges you to consider yourself, those around you, and the environments that have played such a role in forming each of you. When you consider the complexities of the human soul, the various influences that have molded a human being into who they are, this opens the door for great mercy and understanding.

Taking the time to listen to one another, is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other. Everyone has a story. No one has made it through this life unscathed, unaffected by the chaotic variables of a messed up world. We all manifest in our persons traces of a past that we assume others wouldn’t understand. Mental invites us to ask some questions, What if I can be understood? What if my situation is not as unique as I think it is? As a cast, we found that we could be understood, and accepted - that we can listen to one another “past the filter of what we want to hear from them” and actually hear what they’re saying (a line from Amy Clark). That is a beautiful thing.

I’m overwhelmed with appreciation for Gregg Garner and the time he took to write such a brilliant story in service to all of us. I’m thankful for his patience in working with us, and pushing us to pursue excellence for the glory of God. I’m grateful to the rest of the cast, my brothers and sisters. We didn’t simply ‘work together’ through this; we opened our souls to each other.