by Lynn on December 2, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

 At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Duncan MacMillan with Johnny Donahoe

Directed by Brendan Healy

Set and costumes by Victoria Wallace

Lighting by Steve Lucas

Sound by Richard Feren

Cast: Kristen Thomson

Joyous, dense, moving and so beautifully done.

 The Story. I saw Johnny Donahoe do this play at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago. He’s a British comedian who is noted as a co-writer on the play.  For our purposes Kristen Thomson is doing the play so all the pronouns are for a woman.

A seven year old kid makes a list of brilliant things in the world, everything worth living for to cheer up her mother who has attempted suicide. Number 1 is ice cream, going on to the colour yellow, water fights. Etc.  The kid imagines about 300 or so brilliant things and then leaves it for about 10 years.

At 17 the young woman falls in love with a young man she sees in their school library. He is another student who also loves books. She introduces herself  and they become friends, exchanging books etc. One of the books he is loaned has the forgotten list tucked in the book. When he gives the book back she finds the list and that he has added his own brilliant things. Over time the reason for the list shifts to the young woman as she grows up, marries, etc. and has her own issues. The list becomes something she needs in her life, the additions are more introspective, thoughtful, mature.

The Production. The audience and its participation are vital to this production. Without the audience you don’t have a show.  There are situated on all four sides of the playing area.

Kristen Thomson, who plays the girl and later the woman, greets us in our seats as people sit down. She gives out cards with a number and a word or two after it. She tells us that when she calls out a number we are to read what’s on our card. These cards represent the list.

When the play proper is to begin, the lights get brighter in the playing area (they are still on in the audience) and Thomson walks around the space and the talking stops. The power of that one actress to command her audience is awesome.

She talks about her first brush with death—the death of her dog, Sherlock Bones. A member of the audience is chosen to play the vet who will tend to the pet. With consideration Thomson guides the woman chosen on what to say and how to play it.  So the death of her dog is this young kid’s first experience of sadness cased by a death.

Thomson as the little girl tells the story of how she found out about her mother’s first attempt at suicide and how she started the list to cheer her up.  Thomson calls out “Number 1” And I dutifully read out “Ice cream” on my #1 card. She says: “Number 2” and gets a response and on and on until Number 7 and the response—“People falling down”– and Thomson laughs at the silliness and sweetness of the brilliant thing. In between these two numbers we also hear about the colour yellow and water fights as beautiful things.  Needless to say, the list when she was seven is sweet, simple and infantile.

The list from when she was 17 on is more mature, introspective, and gets away from material things.  Sometimes an audience member must play the boyfriend, or her father, or a school counselor. There is such a generosity both from Kristen Thomson and the audience that getting involved is not an awkward thing. And it certainly makes a difference that there is a gifted, nuanced actress playing the lead. Donahoe was funny and accommodating but Kristen Thomson has more depth as an actress and is so sensitive she knows where and how to dig.  There is such detail in everything she says, and kindness when dealing with the audience. We listen hard because she makes us willingly sit forward and hang on every single word.

It’s beautifully directed by Brendan Healy who knows how to get Kristen Thomson to use the space, engage with the audience, give shading and breath and how to make a moment that resonates just by pausing and letting the idea have space to expand.

And of course it gets us to think of what we would put on our list of every brilliant thing that makes our lives better, calmer or more brilliant.

Comment. A friend reminded me of Jordan Tannahill’s play Declarations that he wrote on a plane as he jetted back home to be with his mother when she learned she had cancer. The ‘declarations’ were various aspects of what made up a life and humanity.

In Every Brilliant Thing as the woman grew older the items on the list changed to reflect a mature life. The reason also changed from having to cheer up an unhappy mother, to helping a troubled woman find her own grounding.

Every Brilliant Thing is a wonderful piece of theatre for what it says about life and how a theatre audience of strangers becomes a cohesive community celebrating those things that make up a life.

Add to the list: # gazillion and one: going to a wonderful play and production called Every Brilliant Thing and after the show finding your car has been towed (no one steals a 1998 Toyota Corolla with a bit of rust) and your friend looks up the number for the police so you can call them to find out where the car is, drives you to the pound to get it and waits until you can drive it away (after paying the fine and getting the ticket).

Canadian Stage presents:

Opened: Nov. 29, 2018.

Closed: Dec. 16, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Brian stein December 2, 2018 at 12:50 am

Ouch, for the car. That once happened to me in Florence, also late at night, with no idea where to go or an ability to speak a Italian. I was very grateful for a mother and her son, French, who were in the same boat. We taxied halfway across Tuscany, or so it seemed, to retrieve our cars. He kindly led me back to where my friends were still waiting on the Altrarno. Months later, another request for money arrived from Italy. As I ripped it up I uttered a choice expletive.