Written and performed by Laurel Brady, Surfacing is a story of a young woman telling her mother about her mental illness. In the programme notes, Brady confesses that the show was inspired by a monologue that she wrote about her own depression and anxiety. These are stories we are often afraid to tell other people, stories that we don’t have a lot of social frameworks for understanding, and stories that reveal deep vulnerabilities.
The play stems from a deeply personal place, but the story she’s telling is not exactly her own. It’s the story of a young woman reckoning with her mental illness, her need for help, and how to reconcile her own experiences with her relationship with her mother. Her story traces her history from when she was a child who was not quite like the others, to her teenage years, and finally her 20s, trying to navigate her relationship experiences and expectations against the ever-present backdrop of her relationship with her mother.
Brady has acting skill, that much is evident. She is very easy to watch, in part because of her natural capacity to be inside the moment, and to connect with the audience. She is in the moment in a very comfortable way that gives her a platform to navigate a mixture of different and often conflicting emotions with ease. Having said that, the overall point of her monologue is not clear to me. She is talking to her mother, but not in a way that is realistic, and not in a way that makes it clear what she is trying to achieve. Is she trying to get her mother to reckon with her role in her lack of emotional resources? Is she trying to justify herself? Or is it something deeper or more complicated, and if so, we really need more contextualizing from the start.
The production itself is in need of better direction. Brady is in touch with her emotional centre, but not her body, and her general physicality and the ways she punctuates the action with her movement needs work to work through tightness and ways in which she is closed off to herself, which unfortunately bleeds into her characterization.
Overall Brady gives the audience something meaty yet poetic to ponder. We are all in need of more narratives surrounding mental illness in order to start to incorporate them into a broader, deeper, compassionate social framework, and this story is an important piece of that. With a bit of workshopping and development this show has the potential to be very, very poignant.