Enthralling, immediate, and emotional, Danny MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe’s one-man show “Every Brilliant Thing” is an interactive experience like no other.
Staged in the round, the play tells the story of a young boy dealing with his mother’s depression by creating a list for her of “every brilliant thing” he can think of. Placing the notes in and on objects around the house, he hopes to alter his mother’s perspective and save her from herself.
As the boy grows older, he goes through his issues with ignoring his feelings and navigating relationships and depression of his own.
While it might sound like a downer of a play, it is anything but. The audience becomes the secondary players spontaneously playing the characters of a school counselor, father, girlfriend, and more. The “brilliant things” that the boy wrote down for his mother are given to audience members before the show, and they are frequently asked to shout out the brilliant things they now possess.
This clever way to connect the audience together might be nerve-wracking for some people, but camaraderie develops between everyone in the room. The audience shares not only in the boy’s story but also in being part of his story. In a way, it’s like the audience all goes through it together.
Daniel K. Isaac (“Billions”) plays the unnamed man telling his story, and his genial and energetic nature easily draws his viewers in. Having met most of the audience before the show started by passing out the “brilliant things” they were asked to read, there is an immediate comfort between the performer and the audience.
Isaac doesn’t just follow the script, either. He often hilariously riffs with the audience, commenting on their fumbling assistance and playful line readings.
Utilizing the small space, the show is intimate, and despite the subject matter, it is also funny and warm. The set design adds warmth by canopying the stage with over 200 knitted blankets. This not only reminds us of the comfort of home but also of the past. Whose family didn’t have a crotched patchwork blanket somewhere in their house?
Directed by Colm Summers, the show initially feels simple, with Isaac standing in the center of the room, but he often moves through the space, sitting with audience members, walking the stairs, and pulling in props.
At a swift 70 minutes, “Every Brilliant Thing” brilliantly tells a tough story in the most loving of ways. While not everyone has gone through something so heartbreaking as a mother’s depression, we all know what it’s like to lose focus on the simple things that make life worth living. In that, the show is inspired and inspiring.