Review: EVERY BRILLIANT THING, in Barrie, Ont.

by Lynn on January 28, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Five Points Theatre , Barrie, Ont.

Written by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe

Directed by Steven Schipper

Designed by Joe Pagnan

Cast: Michael Torontow

This is the play that many theatre companies want to produce. It’s a one person play with many helpers. There is no set just a room with the audience and the actor and cards on which are items that are the brilliant things in life that make it worth living. And the show is about suicide as well as life in all its shining glory.

Canadian Stage did the play in Toronto last year with Kristen Thomson. Now it’s Talk Is Free Theatre’s turn to do it at the Five Points Theatre in Barrie, Ont. And what a wonderful, moving, funny production it is.

The audience enters the theatre space and sits in chairs arranged in a semi-circle. Michael Torontow dressed in a spiffy sweater, black jeans and black and white sneakers greets us. He is our narrator, guide, charmer and star of the show. He chats a bit about the show and if we are willing, gives us a laminated card on which is a number and a phrase or thing, or idea that is one of the many brilliant things that will be talked about during the show. The instructions are that when Mr. Torontow calls out a number, the person who has that number reads off what is on the card. #1 is ice cream. Other brilliant things are: the colour yellow, the even-numbered “Star War” films, “falling over.”

The idea is that Mr. Torontow plays a character from the age of seven-years-old until adulthood. When his character was seven-years-old his mother (not Mr. Torontow’s actually mother) attempted suicide but failed (thank heaven). The young boy decides to make a list of all the brilliant things in life to give to his mother to cheer her up. Over the years the list of brilliant things took on a life of its own. The list got longer and more introspective as the narrator got older and looked at life differently. The narrator needed the list to remind him of the brilliant things of life as much as his troubled mother did.

The beauty of the show is that each audience brings its own personality to it. Not only do we get to read out loud the thing on the card when our number is called, but audience members are asked to participate in more personal ways.

A gentleman is picked to play the narrator’s father and act out the day the father came to  for the seven-year-old boy’s school to take him to the hospital because his mother….”is sad and did a stupid thing….”

Another man plays the vet that will have to put down the boy’s dog to illuminate the boy’s first brush with death. I was chosen to play Mrs. Patterson, the school guidance counsellor. Mrs. Patterson had a way of disarming a young, troubled kid: she took off her shoe and sock and put the sock on her hand like a sock dog and proceeded to ask the boy questions to try and see if he is coping or not with his mother’s attempted suicide.

Through it all Michael Torontow played our narrator with charm, humour, exuberance, kindness and patience. Audiences can be both timid and gung-ho. It takes a dexterous, quick-witted, sensitive actor to know how to pull words/a performance out of the audience member who has been selected to ‘play’ a part. That guy is definitely Michael Torontow. And his director Steven Schipper brings out the nuance and subtlety of the piece.

Michael Torontow was quietly gracious when he gently prompted the man playing the character’s father on how to say a line or phrase. He was patient with me when I played Mrs. Patterson and her sock dog, forgetting the dog didn’t just bark in answer to a question. The dog could actually talk and be considerate!!! Mr. Torontow never talks down to his audience. In fact he is buoyant, jolly, humourous, and giving. It’s his humanness and his humaneness that makes the whole experience like disparate groups coming together communally to experience a play.

This production is one of the brilliant things in my life.

Talk is Free Theatre in association with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre:

Opened: Jan. 25, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 2, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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1 Anne-Marie McAllister January 28, 2019 at 5:21 pm

Absolutely. Loved this experience it is more of an experience than a performance. Michael was absolutley brilliant. It is a show tbat stays with you ling after the glow of thw theatre washing off of you.