Review: EVERY BRILLIANT THING (Festival Players, Prince Edward County

by Lynn on August 11, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Studio Theatre, Festival Players, Prince Edward County.

Written by Duncan MacMillan with Jonny Donahoe

Directed by Dylan Trowbridge

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Gavin Crawford.

Brilliant and moving.

The Story. The Narrator (Gavin Crawford) tells the audience what happened when he was seven-years-old when his mother first attempted suicide. His father was taking him to the hospital to see her and said that his mother did something stupid. When the boy learned why she was in the hospital he decided to make a list of “every brilliant thing” in the world that makes life worth living and he would give it to his mother to cheer her up.

Things are rarely that simple. The Narrator began making the list at seven-years-old.

Number 1 was Ice cream. No argument from me.

Number 2 was Water fights.

Number 3 was Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch television. Number 4 was The colour yellow.

Number 5 was Things with stripes.

Number 6 was Rollercoasters.

Number 7 was People falling over.

He continued to build the list as he got older and went to university, met a young woman; fell in love; etc.  Other people added to the list.

The Production. The audience sits on three sides of the rectangular studio theatre. There is a single line of chairs on either side. On the audience side of the rectangle are about six more rows that are on risers so everyone can see. At the other end is a suitcase with stuff in it.

The Narrator (Gavin Crawford) enters the room in worn jeans and a t-shirt. He has a stack of cards which he distributes to the audience with care, respect and consideration. He asks if people will read what’s on the card when he calls out the number. On each card is a number and a word, phrase, idea. During the narrative of the show the Narrator will call out a number and the person with that card replies what the word, phrase or idea is. This is done several times.

He continues with conversations he had with his father—a willing soul poses as the seven-year-old-boy and has to comment on the facts that are being told to him.  The Narrator intersperses the story and says “Number 1.” I reply “Ice Cream” in a loud, clear voice. He continues to call out the next six numbers and the audience members reply with conviction, enthusiasm and good humour.

The Narrator later calls out 253,263 and a clear-voiced young man in the front row read out: “The feeling of calm which follows the realization that, although you may be in a regrettable situation, there’s nothing you can do about it.” He read it with nuance, pacing and humour. He was Dylan Trowbridge, the sensitive director of the piece (and a dandy actor in his own right). Trowbridge keeps the tone easy-going, no rushing and he has Crawford always roaming around the playing space engaging with the audience. The lights are not down dark but are up a bit so that we can see each other.

Gavin Crawford is a personable, funny, considerate man and a serious, engaging Narrator. There are various characters who are played by audience members and they are asked gently if they will agree to do it. One character requires a sock. That is the guidance teacher in the school our sweet seven-year-old-kid goes to. The kid is called into the guidance teacher’s office for a chat and to see how he is doing since his mother is in the hospital. The guidance teacher had a disarming way of making the kids feel at ease. The teacher used a sock as a means of communication.

I have seen Every Brilliant Thing in Edinburgh at the Fringe with Jonny Donahoe, who is listed as a co-writer of the piece. I have seen it in Toronto with Kristen Thomson, twice. I saw it in Barrie, Ontario with Michael Toronto. And now at Festival Players in Prince Edward County with Gavin Crawford. In the first three instances the guidance teacher was played by a woman in the audience and was called Mrs. Patterson. In the Festival Players edition of the show the teacher was played by a man and was called Mr. Patterson. It was the need of a sock, you see. It’s hot summer in Prince Edward County. All the women (except me) in that theatre wear sandals on bare feet. (I wear a mini-socky thing that is invisible in my sneakers) No woman in that audience was going to be able to take of her sock and use it for the scene, so the guy in front of me was chosen to be Mr. Patterson and he took off his snugly fitting sock and did the scene with ease. I thought that decision of both the director? The actor?  to change the character to a man was masterful.

Gavin Crawford is a wonderful Narrator. I have a rather frisky audience. They all know each other it seems. Some even talk back during the show. But Crawford soon gets a handle on that and they stop and got down to the business of listening and eagerly participating.

Comment. Every Brilliant Thing is a play about life and the brilliant things, ideas and attitudes that make life worth living. It’s a play that embraces the audience in a respectful way and makes them act as if they are in a communal effort. Lovely show and it gets you thinking about your own list.

Presented by Festival Players

Began: Aug. 2, 2019.

Closes: Aug. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

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