CEDAR CITY — On a list of every brilliant thing in life, the Utah Shakespeare Festival production of, Every Brilliant Thing, should definitely be near the top. It’s a theatrical experience unlike any other. Staged in the round with a just single actor in the cast, Every Brilliant Thing takes the audience on a journey through one man’s life as he deals with his mother’s depression and suicide attempts, starting when he is only 7-years-old.
For a play with such a somber story line, the production is actually quite heart-warming and humorous. Being able to address such a daunting topic in a way that is both sensitive and raw speaks to the masterfully crafted script by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe.
However, it is not only the content that makes Every Brilliant Thing a unique experience: it is in the way the actor, Michael Doherty, involves his audience in the production. Before the play begins, Doherty circulates through the audience, inviting a wide range of people to participate in the show. His personable nature makes it difficult to tell if he is already playing a character or if he is just a pleasant person. Either way, he is endearing.
Curiosity is piqued when responsibilities begin being divvied out around participants. Some are asked to play a particular role in the show, which Doherty assures them will be simple ,and he will talk them through it when the time comes. Others are given a card with a short phrase to read at a certain point in the play. If the audience member is more comfortable enjoying the show simply as a spectator, there is no pressure to be involved. Because the assignments are made prior to the production, there is no peer pressure to participate.
Even without being a participant, the humor begins during the asking process, simply by overhearing what is being assigned. It difficult not to wonder how phrases as unique as, “dressing up like a Mexican wrestler,” and, “track 7 on every record,” and, “The Alphabet,” will come together in the story line. But they do. Not every person in the audience rises to the challenge of filling their role with the proper aplomb, but remarkably, most of them do. This is the kind of show to definitely see again, because even though the script itself won’t change much, the variables of the audience members cast each night would bring a whole new flavor to each show.
Although the concept of making a list of “every brilliant thing” in life—or of things for which to be grateful—is not a new idea, presenting it within the parameters of a theatrical production adds a unique twist. Performing it in the round with Doherty at the helm—well now, that is just brilliant too. Doherty’s ease on stage and his ability to set the audience at ease cannot be overstated. His emotions feel genuine. His skill in playing to each side of the room is remarkable. He is one with the character in a way that seems to blur the lines between reality and fiction. At times it feels like he, the actor, is telling his real life story rather than playing a role. That kind of authenticity only comes from someone with remarkable talent.
Thanks to Every Brilliant Thing, I left the theater with several truths in mind. Some are so poignant it makes me catch my breath. Others are light-hearted enough to make me smile. If it can be argued that the topic of suicide and depression isn’t prevalent enough to merit a stage production of this kind, two lines from the show should give listeners pause: “It’s important to talk about things, particularly the things that are the most difficult to talk about,” and, “If you live a long life and reach the end of it and haven’t felt crushingly depressed, you probably haven’t been paying attention.” It’s indisputably a topic that warrants attention, and in Every Brilliant Thing, it is handled beautifully.