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Review: 'Eric and Elliot' shows importance of asking for help with mental illness
Courtesy Roanoke Children’s Theatre
Andrew Lewis Middle School student Noah Oldham (left) is brilliant as Eric, and Northside High School student Alex Cutting plays Elliot with maturity and compassion.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
“Eric and Elliot” tells a powerful story of mental illness, but ultimately, it’s a story of love and hope.
The current production of Roanoke Children’s Theatre — about teenage depression and suicide — has already been performed for middle school students from Roanoke, Roanoke County and Salem . Tonight’s one-act, one-hour performance will be the first for the public.
The play centers around Elliot, a teenage boy, and his younger brother Eric, a middle-school-age child, as they go on a journey to seek professional help for their depressed mother.
It’s clear that the brothers are close and that Eric adores and admires his older sibling. The two get lost on the way to the doctor’s office and meet three different characters as they try to figure out where they went wrong.
Each character the brothers encounter has a different way of coping with life’s stresses, symbolized on stage by file boxes of “paperwork.”
Ms. Hadden (Amanda Mansfield) leads a rigid life of structure and insists that everyone must drag their paperwork with them wherever they go. Mr. Willoughby (Michael Mansfield) maniacally runs away from his paperwork, terrified of dealing with the unpleasantness of reality.
Daisy (Gwyneth Strope), a girl about Elliot’s age, simply refuses to move forward or look back, preferring to ignore her paperwork and thus hide from her problems.
Along the way, the audience is given subtle clues that all is not as it seems with the brothers. Eric doesn’t want to face the tragedy of Elliot’s depression; Elliot realizes that, by letting depression consume him and by giving up hope, he caused irreparable trauma to his family.
It’s a complex tale that is touching and honest about the effects of depression and suicide. At the Tuesday matinee performance for students from Lucy Addison Middle School, the cast did a remarkable job.
Noah Oldham, a student at Andrew Lewis Middle School, was brilliant in the role of Eric, a child finding the courage to deal with unspeakable tragedy. Northside High School student Alex Cutting played Elliot with maturity and compassion, and Strope, a Franklin County High School freshman, was radiant as Daisy.
A different cast plays Mr. Willoughby, Eric, Elliot and Daisy on Friday and Sunday.
The symptoms of depression — loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, withdrawal from family life — are weaved thoughtfully throughout playwright Dwayne Hartford’s script, which manages to teach in an entertaining way without judgment or condescension.
Under Pat Wilhelm’s deft direction, the audience sees and feels the consequence of Elliot’s choice through his younger brother’s heartbreak and his mother’s unending sadness.
The message of “Eric and Elliott” is that while mental illness can seem overwhelming, it is treatable and that it’s imperative to ask for help. That can be a life-saving lesson for teens and adults.
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