Paul McComas felt like he had to do something positive after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. McComas, a video and performance artist, created a Nirvana tribute band called Lithiumand decided to stage a benefit concert series called Rock Against Depression (RAD).

“The goal is youth outreach,” says McComas, who’s 34. He hopes the concerts have sent a message that Cobain’s suicide was not about the burden of stardom or about drug abuse or about any of the myriad reasons why people think he killed himself. “This was a person with a serious illness–clinical depression.”

Between songs, the band tried to educate the audience about the symptoms of depression and how to recognize the warning signs of potential suicides. “I don’t know how many kids with mood disorders we’ve reached, but I think we’ve educated so-called normals,” McComas says. “If someone close to them, a classmate, a sibling, exhibits some of the signs of a mood disorder, these kids now will know what they are seeing.”

McComas studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and now his work is inspired by both disciplines. “I’m a writer who tries to include clinical psychology into my material,” he says.

His latest one-act play, Now I Know My ABCs, depicts a young woman’s struggle with schizophrenia and her brother’s struggle to understand her. 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. The president of the Mental Health Association of Evanston, Irene Doyle Sandler, collaborated with McComas on RAD and 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 Coffeehouse, 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.

–Tara Munkatchy

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.