The stigma against mental illness is still as strong as ever. Yet, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), millions of Americans—one in five to be precise—have experienced mental illness. So, why isn’t this issue as talked about—or seemingly cared about—as much as other ailments? What are the signs of mental illness and how is it different than just having a bad day?
These are some of the questions “The Mars Assignment,” directed by Ronan Marra, seeks to answer.
The show centers on a homework assignment given to Alison (the young and very talented McKenzie Franklin). She and her grade school classmates are to give presentations on the solar system. Alison is supposed to present on Mars.
Outside of the classroom, this project seems like it would be a slam-dunk A for Alison. She’s well prepared and has practiced with her parents to the point where she has facts memorized. Her presentation board looks like a ribbon-winning science project. That all changes when she has to actually stand in front of a room of her peers and tell them what she knows.
Her parents, Amy and Eric (Kristin E. Ellis and Joe McCauley), are stressed by parenthood and their jobs. Amy’s only client is a comedienne, Diane (the amusing Georgann Charuhas), whose act centers around her history of depression. Seemingly every character in the show has struggled or is struggling with mental illness. Though this may seem far-fetched, it’s pretty true to reality given the statistics.
Watching “The Mars Assignment” is like putting daily life under a microscope. No one really knows what’s going on in someone else’s head or what someone else is struggling with. However, until society shifts its idea of what mental illness looks like, which isn’t always people shaking in anxiety or screaming in straitjackets, some who struggle might always feel like Martians. (Mary Kroeck)
Collaboraction, 1579 North Milwaukee, (312)226-9633, collaboraction.org, $10-$30. Through November 20.