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"Things get better. They may not always get brilliant, but they get better."

-Narrator, Every Brilliant Thing

In its first Live-Audience mounting since the novel-Coronavirus Pandemic shut down the world as we know it, TampaRep has chosen a marvel of a production. In doing so invited audience members back home so-to-speak with open arms, and mounting this production with one of the finest actors in our surrounding area at its helm. Duncan MacMillan's Every Brilliant Thing is different than anything we have seen as of late. I think this is what truly makes it an endearing yet very sobering piece. Grounded in Audience Participation and two constants, a list and the Mother's mental illness. In this fast paced but never rushed 70 minute tour-de force the Narrator who is remaining nameless maneuvers his way through the space telling the tale of his younger years, his time in college, falling in and out of love, marriage and eventually the failings/ups and downs in which life brings along its path.

Our Narrator played by the exceptional Ned-Averill Snell begins his story at the age of 7 in the month of November, the year 1977 as this is where the list began. The audience is soon introduced to the Narrator telling the story of having to put his beloved dog Sherlock Bones to rest. The narrator asks an audience member to assume the role of the vet, and inject Sherlock Bones, and soon the Narrator explains, " a 7 year old I have no concept of finality." This was and is our protagonist first experience with death, "...the idea of a loved one becoming an object, and going away forever." He then proceeds to go on explaining the thought on this process, "...When something bad happens your brain feels it before your body does, fight or flight."

Often times shows with audience participation have the ability to come across fluffy, and put on. Sometimes they can seem scattered and off the cuff. That is the decisive difference in this specific production. Ned-Averill Snell's performance and Emilia Sargent's keen direction work together like magic not a step out of place. Ned's performance is childlike when it needs to be and seamlessly transitions into adulthood effortlessly. One thing that makes this performance exquisite is the sheer breath-of-fresh air quality about Ned's portrayal. You feel his ache, his heart, his joy, and his pain all in a span of 70 minutes. The performance is so grounded in humanity that you absolutely cannot look away.

The topics touched on in this piece are not light-hearted by any means and the way in which they are delivered work on all angles. You see the Narrator's struggle with his Mother's mental illness, and the idea of an emotionally-distanced somewhat checked out father. All the while our Narrator has to grow-up trying everything to help his mother, but at the same time struggling with the idea that there may be no help for her. Times throughout the piece our narrator leaves his list for his mother in hopes it will help her see all the good in the world. Time after time mother dismisses the list with no acknowledgement. The Narrator explains, "In order to live in the future, we have to imagine something that will be better than the past...that's what hope is."

A decade after mother's first attempt we witness our narrator heading off to college. He mails the list anonymously back home, shortly after mother's second attempt. There is a moment that makes this piece interesting. All the while you feel for the Narrator and his plight and fight or flight response while growing up. Throughout the story we also hear some facts to back up his plight. "We are all sub-conciouslly affected by the behavior of our peers. Marilyn Monroe's death caused a spike of 12% in the number of suicides." In this instance its similar to the idea that a close friend jumps off of a bridge; the question remains would you follow them in suit? The Werther Effect is defined as being a rise in suicide rate linked to media coverage of suicide(s), or which occurs in persons 'inspired' by reading about or having had a close relationship with a 'successful' suicide.

Our Narrator spends the show writing this list of Brilliant Things and trying to reach the penultimate number of one million in hopes it will bring his mother out of her depression. Shouting numbers 1,2,3, etc... and having audience members shout out things like "ice cream," or "playing track number 7, on the perfect record." At one point he discards the list altogether. Feeling lost, feeling broken, devoid of any hope. Then suddenly the list appears to him again. He falls in and out of love, experiences marriage and tremendous loss. The audience participation works on every level here.

TampaRep's first foray back into the Live-arena was a home-run straight out of the park. Speaking of parks that is what makes this particular performance unique. Set in an open air park with audience surrounding the Narrator and a local chicken or two it was a breath of fresh air to experience a hallowed and ancient tradition delivered in a different way. Emilia Sargent and Ned-Averill Snell worked like a well-oiled machine and you can tell the sheer joy they had putting this piece together. An unfortunate battle with mother nature made this week hectic but finally two short days after their previously announced "Opening-Night" the show was underway, and it was well worth the wait. With bated-breath and sheer joy on the audience's faces each one of us sat hanging on the Narrator's every word.

Folks, I implore you to not miss your chance to see this truly remarkable, and joyous yet sobering performance. In a world in which we need this type of human connection more than ever, I turn to fellow artist and like minded individuals to take me on a journey outside of our normal. The thing about this particular subject matter here is that it's so much a reality. Mental Health and the stigma surrounding it should be a conversation, a narrative, that needs to be challenged, needs to be changed. Theatre is in the outright objective, and anyone from any walk of life can and will interpret the art form how they wish. The folks at TampaRep have done a brilliant job exploring the stigma surrounding mental health, it is up to us as observers to change the conversation and I commend TampaRep for their step in this movement. This production is a game changer socially and is deeply grounded in a stigma plaguing society even more so now than ever thought possible. Welcome back to the Live Arena TampaRep its good to have you back. As an audience member do yourself a favor and snag a reservation to this truly moving piece of art, by some incredibly talented individuals. Tickets are available via reservation, and by a generous Donation by the Gobioff Foundation tickets are free! The production has been extended through June 19th, please visit for tickets.

Photo Credit: TampaRep

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