BWW Review: EVERY BRILLIANT THING at Studio Theatre
EVERY BRILLIANT THING at Studio Theatre takes an audience of individuals and transforms them, in 65 short minutes, into a collective. It is theatre in its purest, most primal, form, and it's hilarious to boot. Described by The Guardian as "one of the funniest shows you'll ever see about depression" EVERY BRILLIANT THING is as compassionate as it is hilarious. The first in Studio Theatre's Showroom series-a curated performance series in the summertime (with spirits)-EVERY BRILLIANT THING is warm, intimate, and inventive.
EVERY BRILLIANT THING, originally devised by playwright Duncan MacMillan and comedian Jonny Donahoe and directed by Jason Loewith, tells the story of a seven year old boy growing up in the shadow of suicide. In a bid to rescue his mother from the throes of suicidal depression, the boy starts writing a list of things to live for: brilliant things. As he navigates the journey from boy to man the list is the one thing that remains constant.
Reprising his role from last year's critically acclaimed run at the Olney, performer Alexander Strain anchors this production. As patrons take their seats at a series of high tops with flickering candles and pour over playbills, Strain deftly maneuvers the intimate space and greets everyone like an old friend. Strain's disarming nature makes him particularly suited to the demands of the script, which calls for audience participation. Those who squirm reading the words "audience participation" may find themselves teetering on the edge of their comfort zones, but collaboration is truly the heart of why EVERY BRILLIANT THING is so brilliant.
Most audience members get off easy. Strain's list of brilliant things, ranging from 1 to 1 million, correspond to notes he's distributed to audience members before the show. Monologue slowly turns to dialogue as Strain calls out numbers and audience members chime in with a litany of brilliant things: ice cream, the alphabet, things with stripes, staying up past your bedtime, falling in love. A handful of audience members are called upon to portray important characters in the boy's life: the veterinarian who puts his beloved childhood dog to sleep, his father, his guidance counselor, his English professor, and his girlfriend, Sam.
The script leaves many opportunities for moments of uncomfortability, or even failure. Strain must react masterfully to everything he's given by the audience, remaining observant, sympathetic, and warm, all while keeping the script on track. And he does. By some stroke of luck I was chosen to portray girlfriend Sam, and Strain beautifully guided me through our "meet-cute" at the library, prompting me with softballs but leaving space for me to improv. Even when I completely flopped in our proposal scene, he found a way to endear my actions to the audience.
As I watched audience members seamlessly become actors, saying yes to everything to Strain asked of them and even, sometimes, creating moments filled with unexpectedly real emotion, I marveled at the way we had all silently agreed to buoy each other for the 65 minutes of this shared experience. There was a touch of magic in the room that night, and, with Strain at the helm, I suspect the remaining performances will be similarly imbued.
EVERY BRILLIANT THING is not attempting any theatrical gymnastics, but the sincerity of its message will knock the wind out of you: "Don't do it. Things get better. They might not always get brilliant. But they get better."
Running Time: 65 minutes with no intermission
EVERY BRILLIANT THING plays through July 7th at Studio Theatre. Purchase tickets online.
With Scenic Design by Paige Hathaway, Lighting Design by Max Doolittle, Sound Design by Ryan Gravett and Jane Behre, and Costume Design by Debra Kim Sivigny.
Photo: Alexander Strain and an audience member in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Teddy Wolff.