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EVERY BRILLIANT THING: Some Assembly Required

by | Feb 16, 2024 | Review | 0 comments


It’s fun. It’s moving sometimes. There something essentially theatrical about it. And I suspect we’re in particular need of it right now.


Every Brilliant Thing is a one-actor show that was developed by playwright Duncan Macmillan and stand-up comedian Johnny Donahoe, who originated the role. The protagonist, played by a woman (Naomi Wright) in this production, was seven when her dad picked her up at school and took her to the hospital because her mom had attempted suicide. That’s when she started making a list of all the “brilliant” (i.e. wonderful) things about being alive — to stop her mom from leaving forever.


Before the show starts, the actor distributes little slips of paper to audience members who are open to receiving them. They include items from the character’s list, starting when she was seven (ice cream), and continuing into adulthood (Marlon Brando, the sound of Nina Simone’s voice). Other assignments are bits of dialogue: an audience member plays her dad, for instance. When she needs to hear what’s on a particular piece of paper, she gestures towards the audience member holding it and they speak up.


This is a brilliant convention in that it exploits the embodied and imaginative participation that are required to make theatre work. And the night I was there it was fun watching patrons receive their handfuls of words. Lots of folks were giddy. One guy, who accepted a larger assignment, blushed scarlet, but he laughed and was game. When it came time for him to perform his role, he aced it, delivering his lines with unselfconscious sincerity.


There’s a hazard built into this convention, of course: the teasing suggestion that “Uh oh! I’m going to ask you to do something uncomfortable!” can provoke self-consciousness that results in resistance or overperformance. There was a bit of both the night I was there, but Wright did a solid job of reining in her collaborators.


There are moving moments in Every Brilliant Thing. The passage about the death of a pet got me. When the protagonist said she had something to say to anyone who might be thinking about committing suicide, and followed that up with “Don’t”, the pointedness of Wright’s delivery hit home. And I’m glad the script follows its character into adulthood and acknowledges the shadow still cast by her mom’s instability.


But Every Brilliant Thing is fundamentally very buoyant. That’s its point. One of the things that keeps it afloat is the feat of memory it requires from its performer. Wright remembered who was holding virtually every piece of paper — and where they were sitting. That’s impressive. And theatrical


I wish director Ashlie Corcoran had allowed more changes in tone and especially pace: I often felt like Wright was rushing and wished that she would take the time to settle.


Still, Wright is engaging and in control.


And, especially in these scary times, when everybody who’s paying attention is vulnerable, it was good to be in the embrace of one of theatre’s most fundamental gifts: assembly, which also translates as “community” and “shared experience.”



EVERY BRILLIANT THING by Duncan Macmillan with Johnny Donahoe. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran. On Thursday, February 15. An Arts Club Theatre production running at the Newmont Stage until March 3. Tickets


Photo of Naomi Wright by Moonrider Productions


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