By Duncan MacMillan; Directed by George Perrin
Featuring Jonny Donahoe
Off Broadway, New Solo Show
Runs through 3.29.15
Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 12.21.14
Jonny Donahoe in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Sara Krulwich.
BOTTOM LINE: A nice holiday alternative, Every Brilliant Thing is like a warm cup of hot cocoa to cure the winter blues.
“Suicide is contagious,” our gracious host Jonny Donahoe tells us. Indeed, my curious Wikipedia search has confirmed that the Werther effect, or copy-cat suicide phenomenon, strikes us hard when a television character, widely reported news story, or member of the community takes their own life. So then, Every Brilliant Thing has the opposite goal. As members of this temporary community, we are asked to share in Donahoe’s telling of his attempts to not allow the suicidal attempts of his own mother to rub off on him. By sharing with us his one-million-thing-strong list of all the world’s most brilliant things we have a renewed sense of optimism in the face of such seemingly insurmountable yet ordinary pain.
And that ordinariness is key to this production. If you have made it through your entire life without a crippling sense of feeling depressed, you probably “haven’t been paying attention,” says Donahoe. We are all one, and Every Brilliant Thing is eager to show you that. First off, there’s not even a stage. The Barrow Street Theatre has been assembled into a humble but ballsy configuration around one central stair unit just big enough to occupy Donahoe for a great deal of the play. But he moves freely amongst us as he expertly guides us through his list. Before the show he greets each one of us individually and makes us feel as warm as a holiday party host. We are given cards with items listed on them that we are asked to read aloud during the performance.
And audience participation haters beware: there’s tons of it here. But the calming thing is that Donahoe is so generous, honest, and kind that its extensive use for this production feels so natural. One gets the sense that his connection to the material is deep and we see him really live these tragically beautiful events, but at the same time he can’t have ever given the same performance twice. There are amusing anecdotes about the audience at an earlier matinee and a lively interaction with a wonderful audience volunteer who must improv his way through his father’s wedding toast speech.
Kudos to playwright Duncan MacMillan and the work of director George Perrin. Interestingly, in a world of simplistic solo performance, these are some of the hardest gigs. How do you hold the attention of an audience without all the sparkle and glamor of the usual holiday fare? Honest storytelling. There are no gimmicks or tricks here and we are so thankful for that. We’re thankful for this necessary refuge from the antithesis of jolly these short winter days can really bring. And to anyone who has ever considered the thoughts of taking their own life, Every Brilliant Thing offers the frank advice, “Don’t do it. Things will get better.” Better indeed.
(Every Brilliant Thing plays at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street, through March 29, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 PM; Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 PM and 7:30 PM. Tickets are $55, $75 for premium tickets, and are available at barrowstreettheatre.com.)