Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Every Brilliant Thing
Left Edge Theatre
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, Taylor Mac's Holiday Sauce, Mary Poppins and Pike St.

Ron Severdia
Photo by Argo Thompson
One of the most hauntingly beautiful theatre pieces I've seen this season is Duncan Macmillan's Every Brilliant Thing, currently running at Left Edge Theatre. Thoughtful without being sentimental, an antidote to holiday treacle without being crass, it's a memorable and moving show that warms the heart and affirms life, even with sadness, depression, and death in the bargain. Solo actor Ron Severdia gives a stirring performance that feels fresh and familiar, capturing both the comedy and the pathos in an intriguing tale.

Tone is important for this piece, and Severdia hits it just right—there's humor, joy and laughter, along with a very straightforward, natural delivery that invites us in and avoids the maudlin. He tells the story, in first person, of a man whose mother attempted suicide when he is seven years old. His father tells him, "your mother has done something stupid," and the boy pieces together scant bits of information to try and understand what has happened. His young mind hears, accurately or not, that she didn't feel there was any thing worth living for. This leads the boy to create a list, hoping it will cure his mother's depression, a comprehensive list of "every brilliant thing" that makes life worthwhile.

The list grows and takes on a kind of life of its own. We get to hear the first 10 things, then another group, then another group, and so on, into the hundreds—ice cream, roller coasters, staying up late—simple or sublime, they ring out like bells on a Christmas tree, from a boy's simple pleasures to more adult joys. As the boy grows into teenage and adulthood, sharing observations and experiences (and more things on the list), he draws us inside his life in an easy but intimate way.

Audience members occasionally become woven into the stories, gently and sympathetically—no one is asked to do anything untoward, but those that do assist the stories are rewarded amply with thanks and appreciation. It's a clever inversion of stage and house, erasing the so-called fourth wall almost completely. The script wouldn't be the same without this feature, and the improvisatory nature of these participations adds immensely to the overall experience.

Macmillan's inclusion of information about depression and suicide is so matter of fact, inserted appropriately into points in the narrative, that we can take it in without melodramatics. The list provides a wonderful counterpoint to the darker elements, and in fact, both sides help us to see the whole of life—the extraordinary complexity of being—illuminated in one man's story. How little we really comprehend of the creation of joy, or the origins of depression, or the mysteries of love.

One-person performances are utterly dependent on the performer, and Severdia is splendid in his telling of the story, his interactions with audience, and his own appreciation for the magic of the script. It's a masterful labor of love, a gift of the season, and he invests remarkable energy and generosity into the process.

Argo Thompson directs the show, providing the necessary perspective, and, as artistic director of the company, deserves credit for seeing this as a show appropriate for the holidays, despite its subject matter. April George's lighting design works a little magic of its own, and sound design by Jeff Basham is a huge plus—absolutely wonderful music and underscoring. Assistant director Paige Picard also supplies the necessary props.

The show's running time flies by, one hour and twenty minutes spent with a compelling script and skilled performer. Balance out your holiday season with this truly brilliant thing.

Left Edge Theatre's Every Brilliant Thing, through December 9, 2018, at Studio Theater, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Rd., Santa Rosa CA. Tickets $25.00-$40.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 707-546-3600.