Brilliance” chronicles the meteoric rise, and tragic fall of Frances Farmer, a Hollywood movie star in the 1930s and 40s. The play takes us from the beginning of Frances’ career, through her unprecedented success of stage and screen, to her involuntary commitment to an insane asylum by her own mother. The play explores the volatile mother-daughter relationship… what happens when a young girl’s love and adoration for her mother, and her own worship of the art of acting, are betrayed beyond measure. Frances and her mother, Lillian, perhaps too much alike, rage in a battle of wills, with neither backing down. At that time in history, a family member could claim someone was crazy and “men in white suits” would whisk them away to a mental facility. The fine-line between mental health and insanity was ambiguous and thus thinly drawn.
Was Frances Farmer really crazy, or just a strong-willed woman that the big world of the “Hollywood Star System” wasn’t quite prepared to handle? The industry clearly viewed her as nothing more than an attractive product – Frances was told exactly whom she could see romantically, where she should be seen, what she should wear, and what name she should use. Eventually, Frances found herself fighting for, not only her sense of self, but also her life and the ability to live it as she saw fit. Her insistence that she would oversee her own personal decisions forced her into a “battle of wills” against, not only her mother, but some of the most powerful and influential men of the day. Flying in the face of doctors, judges and movie moguls with often painful results of epic proportions. In a shocking turn of events, Frances is released from the asylum and eventually legally restored her mental competency by the court in 1953.