The last time we wrote about Missoula artist Melissa Bangs it was 2015 and she had just opened a one-woman show at the Crystal Theatre called Playing Monopoly with God & Other True Stories. The first-person account of Bangs’ experience with postpartum depression and mania detailed her journey from psychotic break and hospitalization to recovery. And because Bangs is a comedian, the show turned out to be—despite the dark subject matter—disarming and funny.
In 2012, after Bangs gave birth to her daughter, Adelaide, she developed severe insomnia and began showing signs of mania. After she broke a glass against the floor and walked barefoot on the shards (to show her husband that “everything becomes light”) her family took her to Providence’s in-patient unit. The pain of the experience (especially being separated from her daughter), the mania (playing Monopoly with someone she thought was God) and her eventual recovery through medication, therapy and a naturopath, all became part of the story. She first told it publicly in 2014 at the Tell Us Something storytelling event.
“That night the response was so profound, I walked off that stage knowing I was doing a one-woman show,” Bangs says. She booked the Crystal and gave herself four months to make it happen. Since those Missoula shows, Bangs, and her husband, Eric Ellingson, have taken Playing Monopoly on the road—first, in late 2015, to sold-out theaters in places like Helena and Bozeman, and then on a long West Coast tour where she sold out venues in cities like Seattle and Los Angeles. This week, she brings the performance back to Missoula for its 30th production.
A lot has happened with the show, including how Bangs performs it. For a long time, for instance, Providence was a place she made her family promise never to send her again, even though she’d been treated with kindness and it saved her life. In the last two years, as Bangs has become a support for new mothers going through similar experiences, even walking them into ERs during their darkest moments, her feelings have changed and in response, she’s changed certain lines of the show.
She’s also added some parts. Bangs met a woman in Detroit who had perhaps the hardest story to bear: She’d become so psychotic that she took her child’s life and spent 10 years in prison. The same year Bangs met her, the woman took her own life. “Now, there’s a whole new part to the end of the show inspired by her,” Bangs says.
Playing Monopoly has also had an impact on health workers. At her Helena show, Bangs met Montana Director of Public Health and Human Services Richard Opper, who told her that for his birthday he’d asked his wife to bring him to her show. “A show on postpartum depression and psychosis,” Bangs says, laughing. “Afterward he told me that people’s true mental health stories are so important because one of the biggest barriers to getting help is stigma and shame. ‘A story like yours,’ he told me, ‘allowed me to lean in and have compassion. I could imagine being you.’”
According to Bangs and a press release from Community Hospital, there’s been a greater push to offer more postpartum services to mothers and fathers. Bangs has always used her show as a way to connect people with options, and the medical community is working in tandem on that goal: Chief sponsors include Community Medical Center, Dr. Christine White Deeble of Blackbear Naturopathic and St Pat’s/Providence. “When I told Eric about Providence sponsoring it, he said, ‘Hey! It’s your alma mater!’” Bangs says, laughing again. “But I’m not the cause of the changes. It’s synchronicity. There is a way this show has been a major catalyst, but I also think the winds of change are a blowin’.”
Melissa Bangs performs Playing Monopoly with God & Other True Stories at the Roxy Thu., Nov. 2, Fri., Nov. 3, and Sat., Nov. 4, at 7 PM. Matinee Sun., Nov. 5, at 2 PM. $21 at playingmonopolywithgod.com.