“I’m a writer who tries to include clinical psychology in my material,” says Paul McComas, explaining why Lithium, his Nirvana tribute band, actually tried between songs to educate the audience about the symptoms of depression and the warning signs of potential suicides. Now working in video and theater, McComas, who studied literature and psychology at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, continues to find ways to combine both disciplines.
His latest one-act play, Now I Know My ABCs, shows a young man dealing with the onset of his sister’s schizophrenia. “Ultimately it’s about breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness,” he says. McComas doesn’t have a sister with schizophrenia, but people still think the work is intimately connected to his real life. “Every time we do this piece, people come up to me and ask, “How’s she doing?’ The story is not literally true, it’s emotionally true. It really seems to hit a chord of a fairly common experience.”
McComas has leavened the drama with unexpected moments of comic relief. Irene Doyle Sandler, who’s the president of the Mental Health Association of Evanston and who helped McComas organize a concert series called Rock Against Depression, sees this as one of the most effective aspects of the play. “Mental illness is not funny, except Paul has a way of working humor into the play very respectfully,” she says. “It doesn’t poke fun at people with depression, it humanizes them.”
Now I Know My ABCs will be performed at 8 and 10 PM this Saturday at Mama Java’s, 705 Main Street in Evanston. A variety of monologues by McComas and original poetry by Christine Kozlowski will also be performed. Admission is $5, which benefits the Mental Health Association of Evanston. Call 847-328-6198 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo / J.B. Spector.