Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Every Brilliant Thing
Also see Richard's recent reviews of The Birthday Party and Nine
The boy grows up, and tells the story of confronting the terrible burden of inherited mental illness with wit and philosophy and (in this case) great human kindness. Playwright Duncan Macmillan warmly engages the audience throughout the script of his 2013 play, keeping us afloat in a story that's frequently anguished under the surface. Audience members briefly (and simply, and often touchingly) take part in the play as the boy's father, or love-interest, or school counselor.
And that audience participation allows us to put our sympathies to work on behalf of a very worthwhile person in an otherwise lonely play. The passivity of the audience is thrown out the window, as we get wrapped up in the worrisome task of saving a charming guy like this from a generational curse.
The star of this Every Brilliant Thing is Will Bonfiglio, directed by Ellie Schwetye. She also directed him in another spellbinding New Jewish Theatre show, Fully Committed in December of 2019. Harrowingly, not unlike Jimmy Stewart or Laura Dern, Mr. Bonfiglio's sheer likability now becomes a startling tool in this same director's hands, in a play that careens gaily around a high mountain road of hopeless desperation.
But, I promise, it is genuinely entertaining. Even when the actor's tremendous openness and compassion is ever-so-slightly weaponized against us. Because, if he wasn't so earnestly willing to engage to save his tragic parent, with gale-force enthusiasm, and explain himself in the process, we might not be so completely dragooned into feeling as relentlessly protective.
That said, on opening night, audience participation was somewhat hampered by slow responses from a tiny handful of the dozens of patrons who were given numbered cards to read from. And yet, Mr. Bonfiglio is endlessly resilient, and a wide variety of audience members were affirmatively engaged. His occasional ad libs, as he interacts with us all, are a marvel of high on-the-fly professionalism. A manic, one-man dance party in the midst of it all is an added thrill.
The title of the show refers to a list of hopeful things in the world, a simple list that becomes epic over time. Another powerful element in this production comes from Bess Moynihan's scenic design, with dozens of life-affirming list phrases on cards that hang overhead, suspended just out of the reach of this humorous man, battling congenital melancholia.
The words and phrases on the cards overhead are uplifting, but just as unattainable. This grueling little twist to help balance out all the show's unexpected charms.
Every Brilliant Thing runs through April 2, 2023, at the Jewish Community Center, #2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Couer MO. For tickets and information, please visit www.jccstl.com.