WDL's "Leaves" Delivers Powerful, Poignant Message About Illness

Original article published in Delaware Arts INfo Blog 2/13/2015



Wilmington Drama League (WDL) staged another outstanding performance this past weekend. Lucy Caldwell’s Leaves was a brilliant, heartbreaking portrayal of the effects of depression on a young woman and her family.


The play surrounded a seemingly average Irish family and their everyday struggles. It is revealed that the cause of many of their problems is the oldest daughter’s recent suicide attempt. I thought the storyline was extremely unique because of the focus on the effects of mental illness — not only on those who are personally affected by it, but also the impact on those who have known and loved them their entire lives. The damaged relationships and interpersonal disconnects are a side of depression not often discussed or presented. WDL did an excellent job of leaving off the “sugar-coat” to show the audience the truth about the widespread effects of having, or living with a person who has, a mental illness. The downplay of diseases such as depression is an enormous problem that I believe this performance is trying to help eradicate.


I don’t think WDL could have found a better cast to portray the intense roles required for the show. The cast ranged in age from 7th Grader to adult, and each of them equally talented. What made their performances even more impressive was the added Irish accents. Caldwell, the writer of Leaves and an Ireland native, would have been impressed by the authenticity in their portrayal of a typical Irish family. In addition to the excellent cast, this play was significant for WDL because of the two young directors leading the show. Mollie Montgomery and Casey Moore — both high school students — co-directed this show without the help of adults. I think this made the actors’ performances even more impressive. Their direction and interpretation was both inspired and unique. I don’t think that many adults have the skills that these two young students have.


An aspect of Leaves that made it particularly outstanding was the display of artwork by Emily Spiegel and Michael Curcio. Emily and Michael were two young local artists recently lost to suicide. Their works were displayed in the front lobby and added a more personal depth to the show that the whole audience could feel. There was also the option to buy tea for $1 to support ContactLifeline, a Delaware-based 24/7 suicide hotline. In addition, $1 from each show ticket was donated to the ContactLifeline. I thought that this was an excellent benefit to a beautiful performance.


I thought this production was excruciating in the most unbelievable way. This show was not for those looking for a relaxing night out. From start to finish, the show was intense and evocative, with glimmers of humor here and there. The ending came off as an "it's all better now" conclusion, but left me wondering what was implied for the character's futures. I think that Wilmington Drama League did an extraordinary job of executing this provocative production.


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Wilmington Drama League's 'Leaves'

https://www.usatoday.com/picture-gallery/entertainment/theater/2015/01/29/wilmington-drama-leagues-leaves/22537319/
















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Art exhibit by 2 Delaware youths lost to suicide


Written by Margie Fishman, January 29, 2015

Original article published in The News Journal


"Life is so damn good," Emily Spiegel declared on Facebook in August of 2013, after spending a summer in the sunshine working at a farm in Maine.


The Wilmington native was eagerly anticipating her junior year at Colorado College, where she served as vice president of the Student Government Association and advocated for mental health issues on campus. That September, Spiegel advertised the National Suicide Prevention Week to her more than 1,200 Facebook friends, listing the phone number for a 24-hour hotline.


"YOU matter. Ask for help," she wrote.


Seven months later, the clever, eccentric artist, whose post-graduate plans included saving the world, took her own life. She was 21.


After struggling with an eating disorder and depression, the young woman described by friends as a "walking light," "magical" and "wildly optimistic" gave away most of her artwork, determined to die.


Today, less than a year after Spiegel's passing, her mother, Laura Schwait, is sharing what's left of that passion in an effort to destigmatize mental illness and encourage community members to seek help.


"It can happen to anyone," Schwait says. "Mental illness is everywhere and people just need to talk about it."



Feb. 6-8, Spiegel's drawings will be on display at the Wilmington Drama League alongside the work of another young artist, Michael Curcio. Curcio, a graduate of Archmere Academy and the University of Arts in Philadelphia, committed suicide in 2013 at the age of 24. He had suffered from bipolar disorder.


Spiegel and Curcio didn't know each other, according to their parents, but their family homes are less than 3 miles away in north Wilmington. Both left behind siblings.


Curcio's mother, Tina, said her son pursued art in elementary school and high school. He worked as a medical records trainer and in video production for the Philadelphia Phillies.


"His true love was the written word," Curcio said, adding that Michael read everything from an Elvis Presley biography to vintage Life magazines. He studied documentary film and writing in college.


The exhibition, starting Feb. 6 at 6 p.m., is timed with the opening of the drama league's production of "Leaves," a play that focuses on a family in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who must confront their college-age daughter following a suicide attempt. Written by Lucy Caldwell, the drama is directed by two seniors at Cab Calloway School of the Arts.


"It's been a growing process," explains Casey Moore, who is co-directing the play with her friend, Mollie Montgomery.


Moore, a longtime Drama League actress, says the cast tried to honor the subject matter by presenting sincere, complex interactions on stage. In one poignant scene, the main character, Lori, tries to explain to her mother why she had decided to end her life.


"That one moment was just heartbreaking," Moore remembers. "The family needs to learn to deal with this and come to accept it."


Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans; there were about 40,600 suicides reported in the U.S. in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available.


The highest suicide rate is among people aged 45 to 50, with men four times more likely to commit suicide than women.


In Delaware, 106 people died by suicide in 2010, representing 1.4 percent of total deaths that year.


Over the last five years, the number of calls to Delaware's 24-hour suicide helpline has increased by nearly 50 percent to 646 calls last year, according to Eric Merlino, executive director of Contact Lifeline in New Castle County. Call volume spiked after actor Robin Williams took his own life in August, Merlino says.

The statewide crisis helpline, staffed by counselors at (800) 262-9800, regularly fields calls from victims of sexual or physical assault, those suffering from bipolar or schizophrenia or people overwhelmed by a sense of personal failure after falling into financial ruin. Some callers actively try to commit suicide while on the phone, Merlino says.

The common thread: Everyone is "desperate for the pain to go away."

The drama league will contribute $1 to Contact Lifeline from every "Leaves" ticket sold.

A drama league board member, Merlino has mentored the cast during rehearsals. He has offered advice on how to portray a family trying to reconcile feelings of abandonment, betrayal and anxiety over the unknown.

"It's like walking on eggshells without even knowing where the eggshells are," he says. 'Open to interpretation'

Hanging in the gallery will be Spiegel's bold self-portrait, painted in the style of her favorite artist, Henri Matisse.

Serenity seems to wash over the right side of her face, while the left side pulsates with deeper hues, eye wide and nostril flared.

"I like to leave it open to interpretation," Spiegel's mother says softly. "It's just so complicated."




Entranced by Matisse's paper cutouts, created in his later years after he could no longer paint, Siegel designed a puzzle piece tattoo on her arm to honor him. Her mother now has a similar puzzle piece tattooed on her wrist at the pulse point.

Standing in her daughter's old bedroom, which is no longer stacked high with art supplies and found objects, Laura Schwait unrolls an abstract butterfly, an octopus with a vacant stare and a series of detailed fly prints.

The art major and graduate of Mount Pleasant High School was fascinated by the free movement and intersecting paths of flies, her mother explains.

"Everything was a project," recalls Spiegel's stepfather, Scott Van Bramer. "She was always thinking. Always."

An activist who protested the use of child soldiers in Uganda and U.S. military intervention in Syria, Spiegel also had a goofy side. She tucked herself in the metal blade of a bulldozer and smirked for a photo on the farm and posed as a hipster "in training" wearing a sunflower crop top.

During her final fall semester, Spiegel shaved her head. In a later interview with her college newspaper, she acknowledged having a rough month, adding "it's my way of reminding myself or maybe other people that you can be bald and healthy."

At the time, Spiegel littered her Facebook page with inspirational quotes from Buddhist teacher Tara Brach, French-Cuban author Anais Nin and American writer George Saunders.

In one of her final posts, under a profile picture of her laughing in a floral sundress, she quotes from John Steinbeck's "East of Eden."

"But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul," she writes. "It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe.

"It is always attacked and never destroyed – because 'thou mayest.' "

Contact Margie Fishman at (302) 324-2882 or mfishman@delawareonline.com.

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Leaves" play and accompanying art show of the work of Emily Spiegel and Michael Curcio WHERE: Wilmington Drama League, 10 W. Lea Blvd. in Wilmington WHEN: Feb. 6 at 8 p.m.; Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.; and Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. Opening night on Feb. 6 features an art reception at 6 p.m. and a discussion with the cast and directors following the performance.

TICKETS: General admission $12 at wilmingtondramaleague.org or by calling (302) 764-1172.

SUICIDE PREVENTION One of the biggest challenges for suicide prevention is persuading people to talk about it, experts say. Here are some warning signs that demand immediate attention: •Announcing that a person has made a plan to kill himself or herself •Talking or writing about suicide or death, such as saying, "You will be better off without me," or "Who cares if I'm dead, anyway?" •Isolating from friends and family •Giving away prized possessions •Neglecting appearance and hygiene •Obtaining a weapon or prescription drugs

RESOURCES •Contact Lifeline crisis 24-hour helpline at (800) 262-9800 or www.contactlifeline.org •Suicide Prevention Resource Center, www.sprc.org •American Association of Suicidology, www.suicidology.org •American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, www.afsp.org •Mental Health Association in Delaware, www.mhainde.org.



'Open to interpretation'

Hanging in the gallery will be Spiegel's bold self-portrait, painted in the style of her favorite artist, Henri Matisse.

Serenity seems to wash over the right side of her face, while the left side pulsates with deeper hues, eye wide and nostril flared.

"I like to leave it open to interpretation," Spiegel's mother says softly. "It's just so complicated."

Entranced by Matisse's paper cutouts, created in his later years after he could no longer paint, Spiegel designed a puzzle piece tattoo on her arm to honor him. Her mother now has a similar puzzle piece tattooed on her wrist at the pulse point.


Standing in her daughter's old bedroom, which is no longer stacked high with art supplies and found objects, Laura Schwait unrolls an abstract butterfly, an octopus with a vacant stare and a series of detailed fly prints.

The art major and graduate of Mount Pleasant High School was fascinated by the free movement and intersecting paths of flies, her mother explains.

"Everything was a project," recalls Spiegel's stepfather, Scott Van Bramer. "She was always thinking. Always."

An activist who protested the use of child soldiers in Uganda and U.S. military intervention in Syria, Spiegel also had a goofy side. She tucked herself in the metal blade of a bulldozer and smirked for a photo on the farm and posed as a hipster "in training" wearing a sunflower crop top.

During her final fall semester, Spiegel shaved her head. In a later interview with her college newspaper, she acknowledged having a rough month, adding "it's my way of reminding myself or maybe other people that you can be bald and healthy."

At the time, Spiegel littered her Facebook page with inspirational quotes from Buddhist teacher Tara Brach, French-Cuban author Anais Nin and American writer George Saunders.

In one of her final posts, under a profile picture of her laughing in a floral sundress, she quotes from John Steinbeck's "East of Eden."

"But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul," she writes. "It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe.

"It is always attacked and never destroyed – because 'thou mayest.' "


Contact Margie Fishman at (302) 324-2882 or mfishman@delawareonline.com.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: "Leaves" play and accompanying art show of the work of Emily Spiegel and Michael Curcio

WHERE: Wilmington Drama League, 10 W. Lea Blvd. in Wilmington

WHEN: Feb. 6 at 8 p.m.; Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.; and Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. Opening night on Feb. 6 features an art reception at 6 p.m. and a discussion with the cast and directors following the performance.

TICKETS: General admission $12 at wilmingtondramaleague.org or by calling (302) 764-1172.

SUICIDE PREVENTION

One of the biggest challenges for suicide prevention is persuading people to talk about it, experts say. Here are some warning signs that demand immediate attention:

•Announcing that a person has made a plan to kill himself or herself

•Talking or writing about suicide or death, such as saying, "You will be better off without me," or "Who cares if I'm dead, anyway?"

•Isolating from friends and family

•Giving away prized possessions

•Neglecting appearance and hygiene

•Obtaining a weapon or prescription drugs

RESOURCES

•Contact Lifeline crisis 24-hour helpline at (800) 262-9800 or www.contactlifeline.org

•Suicide Prevention Resource Center, www.sprc.org

•American Association of Suicidology, www.suicidology.org

•American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, www.afsp.org

•Mental Health Association in Delaware, www.mhainde.org.


CONTACT US

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Administrative 302-764-3396

Box Office  302-764-1172

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This organization is supported, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.  The Division promotes Delaware arts events on www.DelawareScene.com.

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