After his mother attempts suicide, a little boy decides to write a list covering every brilliant thing in life. This list follows the boy as he grows into a man and experiences the highs and lows of life. This is Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan MacMillan and it kicks off the Blue Barn Theatre’s 29th season: Connect.
MacMillan has written a pretty potent script “based on true and untrue stories” and it has a little bit of something for everyone. It’s funny. It’s poignant. It’s thoughtful. It’s relevant. The play centers around the theme of suicide and provides a hopeful message: things will get better. This message is laid out with facts, stories, and audience participation. I thought the audience participation element was positively inspired because this is a story that we are all part of as all of us have felt down in life and needed a little picking up.
An interesting thing about casts is that the smaller they are, the stronger they have to be. When dealing with a one person show, not only does the actor’s talent have to be of phenomenal quality but he or she needs an almost symbiotic relationship with an equally talented director in order to find, develop, and relate the innumerable beats of the story. Fortunately this show illustrates just such a relationship as the impeccable direction of Susan Clement-Toberer combined with the acting chops of Hughston Walkinshaw result in a night of theatre that is somber, moving, light, funny, and strong.
Ms Clement-Toberer’s staging is of superior quality as she breaks down the barriers between actor and audience. Walkinshaw performs in the round and is centimeters away from the audience. Never is there a static moment as Walkinshaw constantly moves around the room and engages the audience, bringing them deeper into the world of this tale.
So natural and extemporaneous is Walkinshaw that it almost doesn’t seem like he’s acting. It’s almost as if he’s telling his own life story. But it is an arduous and triumphant performance as Walkinshaw has to constantly be on his toes and be aware of every moment as he may have to fill in the blanks or gently move things along during the audience participation moments.
Walkinshaw’s interpretations are so spot on and precise. At one moment, he is an innocent little boy facing death for the first time when his beloved dog is put to sleep. In a flash, he’s a college student finding love for the first time. In the blink of an eye, he’s a jaded adult facing his own battle with depression which causes his marriage to crumble while he deals with the hideous reality of suicide in his own family. Yet, through it all, he maintains his grip on hope with the ever growing list of brilliant things.
Shea Saladee softly lights the performance space with a series of vintage chandeliers. Craig Marsh’s sounds take the form of music which plays an important emotional role in this show. And the final number will be the “happiest sad song” you ever heard. Amy Reiner’s properties of bits of the list truly enhance the spontaneous nature of the unnamed character’s writings.
This is theatre at its purest. At its most intimate. At its most beautiful. At its peak. It’s a masterful opening for the Blue Barn and you will regret it if you miss this one.
Every Brilliant Thing plays at the Blue Barn Theatre through Oct 15. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm (The Oct 8 show will be at 2pm.). Tickets cost $35 for adults and $30 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of 10 or more. For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org. The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.