Like every good list, it starts at the number one and moves on from there.
- Ice cream
EVERY BRILLIANT THING, playing at Cygnet Theatre through September 16th, has a premise that seems incongruous at first. This is an amazing, and emotional, immersive storytelling experience that explores such topics as depression and attempted suicide, but leaves the audience with a feeling of hope and sentimentality. Are things that diametrically opposed able to achieve such a result?
This solo piece, written by British playwright Duncan Macmillan and comedian Jonny Donahoe,starts with the Narrator (Ro Boddie) explaining that when he was seven years old, his mother ended up in the hospital due to a failed suicide attempt. Not understanding why she was having difficulties being happy, he decides to remind her of all of the wonderful things in the world to help. This is where the list comes in.
As he grows from adolescence into adulthood, the list matures with him. What begins with what a seven year olds ideas of things that are really good…
3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch tv
25. Wearing a cape
They get more specific as he gets older
315. The smell of old books
317. The even numbered Star Trek films
While the purpose is initially help his mother, it is the active search for hope, and finding the brilliant moments in the everyday that help shape his life. Turns out this list is not just a list. It is the thing that has helped him navigate his own emotional highs and lows in his life, as well as coping with his mother’s continuing issues and his father’s emotional distance. It is a snapshot of the depression, confusion, and grief his family has gone through while also highlighting the love, the hope, and the humor along the way.
This is a one man show, but this is a team effort as the audience is brought in to help; a guidance counselor, his father, the veterinarian, his college girlfriend, and more. Others in the audience have slips of paper and when their number on the list is called their voices ring out, “falling in love,” “palindromes” or “the prospect of dressing like a Mexican wrestler!”
Boddie is superb in this role, he is full of energy, personality, and charm; making the entire theatre his world. The vulnerability and enthusiasm feel natural and nothing feels forced or manufactured.
Due to audience participation and not always knowing what they’re going to say, it is by nature an ever evolving play with each performance its own premier. Boddie manages the unpredictable variables that occur when asking so many in the audience to become involved with aplomb. It may seem effortless, but being able to connect with an audience in a way that feels like a conversation, while being dynamic, welcoming, and empathetic is a difficult enough balance. When you add in topics like attempted suicide and depression this is an even more remarkable achievement.
By the end of the show you may feel the need to give him a hug.
Directed by Rob Lutfy, this one act keeps a brisk pace while melding some witty humor into the emotional patchwork of the play. There is no shying away from the gravitational pull of darkness that the Narrator’s mother succumbed to, and that the Narrator struggles with as well. Yet, Lufty keeps the tension tight between the light and the dark to create a captivating 75 minutes.
With some audience seating on the stage, the space becomes a small theatre in the round. It’s intimate but cozy, with mixed chairs, a piano, a record player, and a rug feeling almost like we’re all in a family living room. The close quarters add immediacy to the emotional story.
At one point the Narrator gives some advice, “For those contemplating suicide: Don’t do it. Things get better.”
A show about suicide prevention will always have a potential toward becoming weighted down, or depressing but the strength of this production is that it turns these into a journey that is uplifting and full of hope.
Studies say that more and more people are stressed, or feeling overwhelmed, and disheartened. One of the simplest things to do that has been proven to have a positive impact is keeping a gratitude journal, or a record of something positive, no matter how small, that happened that day. There is beauty and happiness to be found in realizing that blessings are not always material things; but the opportunities, and the easily overlooked minutiae that can make up a day in a life.
Which brings us back to the Narrator’s list; which he continues to work on and encourages the audience to contribute to as the show comes to a close.
So the real question is – what’s on your list?
EVERY BRILLIANT THING is playing at the Cygnet Theatre through September 16th. For ticket and show information go to www.cygnettheatre.com