Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Every Brilliant Thing
Of course, it's not always the unheard-of "little" shows. R-S Theatrics recently brought us perfectly formed local debuts of the big cast musicals In the Heights and The Light in the Piazza, both of which, for some reason, slipped out of the net at the Rep, out in the suburbs. But, large or small, going to an R-S show begins to feel like being ushered into the back room of a mysterious old jewelry shop, to view some great, rumored treasure from afar.
So it is with Every Brilliant Thing. It's fairly new, though its existence has been rumored for some time in these parts. And it is from afar: with its official debut at the 2013 Ludlow Fringe Festival, at the south end of the central English county of Shropshire. It's written by Duncan Macmillan, and his original star, stand-up comic Jonny Donahoe, is given co-author status, for reasons that will become apparent. For a show that starts out about a seven year-old daughter living with a suicidal mother, and who later struggles with depression herself, it's truly remarkable in its uplift, and its unifying effect on the audience. Tom Kopp directs Nancy Nigh, an improv comic in her own right, playing the daughter/narrator here. And, steadily, she weaves us into the action, inserting us in the performance in ways that are easy, and structurally significant as well. Every Brilliant Thing quietly makes the point that it can take a little work from a fairly large number of people to save just one.
But, seen from another vantage point, that same structure also comes to resemble a mystery, a whodunit, as audience members are enlisted to fill the space of the girl's father, or her boyfriend, or her high school counselor. Gradually, in this living scrapbook, we realize there is no audience stand-in for the suicidal mother. In her absence, she casts a long shadow. We begin to wonder: will she appear? Or won't she?
Still, it's at least as emotionally satisfying as any two-hour show, set here "in the round," with many of the audience members reciting from a print-out list of reasons to stay alive, which gives the play its title. First the Narrator struggles to get the list up to 100 items ("Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity Pancakes" is one; "sunshine" another), then up to 1,000, and ultimately much higher. We can feel the therapeutic effects as the structure of the stage becomes a mechanism within the storytelling itself: a warm and casual chorus (the participatory audience) surrounds the main character, helping to manage and contain her mental illness. Maybe we're all just the voices in her head, staving off the depression at the center of her mind by the forcible recollection of every good memory. In any case, you feel like you've done a great deed for another human being, just by taking part.
Every Brilliant Thing, through December 2, 2018, at the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre, 501 North Grand Blvd., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.r-stheatrics.com.
Narrator: Nancy Nigh