We gave it an A-
Number 993. ”Having dessert as a main course”. That’s the slip of paper I received at Every Brilliant Thing—a gently moving and wholly unique solo show playing at the Barrow Street Theatre in NYC’s West Village through March 29. Jonny Donahoe, the evening’s cheerful, jazz-loving orator, has passed out several of these slips of paper, which feature phrases as brief as ”ice cream” or ”bubble wrap” to convey our improv-savvy narrator’s best things in life. In telling the often-heartbreaking tale of one man’s bout with depression while trying to understand the untimely suicide of his late mother when he was a boy, the creators have effectively created a bold new kind of theatrical group therapy.
Before one is scared off by the subject matter, it should be clearly noted that Every Brilliant Thing is never morose or defeating. Donahoe—an animated cross between James Corden and Ray Winstone—keeps the mood light even in the midst of some rather painful material (based on a short story by Duncan Macmillan, who also wrote this piece with the performer). For those allergic to audience participation, be warned there is plenty of opportunity for it, but that’s the slyest move that director George Perrin’s production employs—that one must surround themselves with people to grapple with the deadly pull of melancholy. And part of the fun is seeing what familiar faces might end up in the mix. (My performance featured Oscar-nominated Breaking Away star Barbara Barrie in the crowd, who was treated to tissues by Mr. Donahoe after a slight sneezing jag.)
There is no mistaking that this 65-minute production rests on a gimmick, but oh, what a lovely gimmick it turns out to be. Every Brilliant Thing innately understands the healing power of a receptive audience, and given that it is a necessity to participate in everyday life, why wouldn’t we also participate in a celebration of life? This is the rare play that truly does feel as if you?re having dessert as a main course. A-