Every Brilliant Thing
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
The Edye at the Broad Stage
Through February 12
Jonny Donahoe, a wonderful storyteller, is so personal and persuasive that one assumes, or at least I did, that the solo show he performs at the Edye at the Broad is an autobiographical play. But it isn’t. Every Brilliant Thing was initially written by Duncan Macmillan, which he adapted from his short story “Sleeve Notes.” A prolific British playwright and director, it was the versatile Macmillan who, with Robert Ickes, adapted and directed the stunning production of 1984 last year at the Broad Stage.
But unlike 1984, a dark looming dystopian spectacle, Every Brilliant Thing is intimate and uplifting, notwithstanding the current of pensive sadness coursing through it.
A first-person narrative, the play in its current iteration is a collaboration among Macmillan, director George Perrin and Donahoe. It’s the story of a man (or it could be a woman, the playwright’s notes tell us) whose mom attempted suicide when that person was seven years old. It’s a bewildering experience for the child, who struggles through the immediate aftermath with the help of a kind school counselor and the sock puppet she employs to help communicate with the boy and build his trust.
But the recollection remains ever-present and, in order to cope, the Narrator begins compiling a list of every brilliant thing — brilliant as in British slang meaning great, cool or awesome — worth living for. The list starts out with a few simple obvious things like ice cream, and mounts first into the hundreds, then into the thousands, and finally into the hundreds of thousands, with the Narrator, now an adult, still trying to help his mom and himself.
Part of the charm of both the performer and his performance is the manner in which he involves his audience, selecting various individuals to stand in for his dad, his teacher, a lecturer at the university, or the woman who he was to marry. Other folks are cast in bit parts; Donahue distributes pieces of paper with one or two lines on them, each with a number, and when he calls out that number during the play, the person with that piece of paper speaks the line.
But even without this engaging inclusion, Every Brilliant Thing is a lovely, touching show, the sort of thing I’d add to my own list of “brilliant things” if I were compiling one.
The Edye at the Broad Stage, Santa Monica; Tues-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through February 12. www.thebroadstage.com or 310-434-3200. Running time: 60 minutes with no intermission.