BWW Review: Uplifting EVERY BRILLIANT THING Shines at Milwaukee Repertory Theater
The warm glow of swagged café lights. Chairs situated in the round, a plush oriental rug resting center-stage. One remarkable storyteller. Dozens of audience members waiting to participate in the magic.
When a play is as aptly named as this one, it makes my job a breeze. It's not just the "brilliant" part; it's also the "every." From the supremely engaging Scott Greer to the perfectly-sentimental script by Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe to the overall format of the evening, under the direction of Terrence J. Nolen, there's no end to the brilliance of Every Brilliant Thing.
It's the story of a young boy who seeks to cure his mother's depression by creating a master list of all the wonderful things in life: ice cream, hugging, staying up past your bedtime, the even-numbered Star Trek movies, and so on. Through the years, the boy grows up and grows his list to the hundreds of thousands, including things like the smell of old books, nearly dropping something but catching it at the last moment, and falling in love. Nearly everything on the list is read aloud by members of the audience, the chosen ones having received a cue card upon entering the Stiemke Studio.
Clocking in at just over an hour long (no intermission), this play is a wholly immersive experience shared in a space that the Milwaukee Rep has made to feel truly safe. As the people seated in the black box theater change nightly, so too must any moment where performer Scott Greer plays off what the public gives him.
Whether he's looking to borrow a book, prompting a woman to use her own sock as a hand puppet, or coaxing folks to join him on the oriental rug to give a speech or play a prop, Greer conducts the audience with kindness and encouragement. He is terrifically gracious, good humored, and witty. But don't worry - if participation isn't your thing, just keep your head down. Greer isn't here to pick on anyone.
Like its lead actor, Every Brilliant Thing is honest, heartfelt, and abounding with persistent hope, even in somber moments. A word of warning: Those who have encountered depression or suicide should be aware that these themes are central to the story. As Greer's character admits, it's naive to think that a list of brilliant things - or a play about a list of brilliant things - could cure the complexities of depression. Yet this is an uplifting night of theater that celebrates resilience and invites both open dialogue and a sincere human connection.
There's something magnificent in the simple way this play calls out common joys: surprises, hair stylists who listen to what you want, the smell of bacon. During its short engagement at the Milwaukee Rep, there will surely be countless faces beaming and eyes brimming in the Stiemke Studio. Truth be told, it's tempting to go back for another round, in the round. Every Brilliant Thing is just that good for the spirit.
Catch it through May 5th. Tickets at milwaukeerep.com.