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Spectrum Theatre debuts Albany playwright Darian Mercuri’s first production Custard

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Spectrum Theatre's Darian Mercuri and Michelle Harris.
Camera IconSpectrum Theatre's Darian Mercuri and Michelle Harris. Credit: Laurie Benson

An original Albany play that deals with the trials and comedy of supporting a loved one living with mental illness will debut at the Spectrum Theatre next week.

Custard, written by Albany playwright Darian Mercuri and directed by Jen Croston, follows grandmother Doreen, played by Michelle Harris, who has recently been discharged from a mental health facility after a suicide attempt.

The play tracks Doreen’s journey of recovery and the ups and downs of living with bipolar disorder as she is put in the care of her son — played by Mercuri — her daughter-in-law, and 16-year-old granddaughter who she builds a close relationship with.

It is the first play Mercuri has seen through to production and it draws on his personal experiences.

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“I’ve worked in mental health a lot and have a lot of personal connection with mental health,” he said.

“My father ended his life about seven or eight years ago and he had bipolar.

“So a little bit is written in some of his sort of manic episodes that he had, and just some of the experiences I had.”

Spectrum Theatre's Michelle Harris and Darian Mercuri.
Camera IconSpectrum Theatre's Michelle Harris and Darian Mercuri. Credit: Laurie Benson

Harris, who has acted for 29 years, also drew on personal experience of supporting family members living with mental illness to play Doreen.

“I suppose the more I read Doreen, the more I understand the difference between her highs and her lows,” she said.

“It was a challenge to get it right, and I hope I do Doreen justice.

“I think it’s a very moving play, people will laugh and they’ll cry, and I think it’s got everything in it.”

Although the play deals with heavy themes, Mercuri said it was, overall, a comedy.

“There’s a lot involved, it does have suicide in it, it does have mental health issues in it, but I think there’s far more comedy in it than that,” Mercuri said.

“And hopefully towards the end of the show, everyone leaves with a nice little message at the end of it.”

Throughout the show the titular custard plays a vital role.

Spectrum Theatre's Michelle Harris.
Camera IconSpectrum Theatre's Michelle Harris. Credit: Laurie Benson

“I guess it is like how some people have a drinking problem, or some people turn to drugs or anything like that, Doreen’s character turns to custard,” Mercuri said.

“Wherever she’s gone in her life, whether it be mental health wings, or wherever, there’s always custard.

“Instead of having a glass of wine and then just forgetting about the world, that’s her having custard and forgetting about the world, that’s her switch-off.”

Custard is the first major production the amateur theatre group has been able to hold this year after COVID-19 interruptions stopped others from going ahead and forced cast members to isolate.

“It’s just been hit after hit, but hopefully that’s all done now and we’re ready to go,” Mercuri said.

Custard is on at Spectrum Theatre on at 7pm on June 24, June 25, July 1, July 2, July 8 and July 9, with 5pm shows on June 26 and July 3.

For tickets visit bit.ly/3txbWhi.

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