Every Brilliant Thing Review

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Every Brilliant Thing came to stage across Canada this year. Jenna-Lee Hyde in Every Brilliant Thing | Direction, Scenic co-design and scenic artistic design by Stephen Waldschmidt. Scenic co-design by Tim Bratton. Lighting design by Charlie Peters. Photo by Chris Graham Photo.

The theatre seen ‘round the “globe”

By Adeoluwa Atayero, Contributor

For whatever reason, when I think of a one-person show, the first word that comes to mind is cringe. It may have something to do with the many parodies I have seen over the years or maybe it is my fascination with the audacity of an actor who thinks that they, and they alone, are enough to entertain an audience for a long period of time. Whatever it is, It didn’t leave me thrilled to see Burnt Thicket’s production of Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan MacMillan with Jonny Donahoe.

Upon entering the venue, I noticed how small and intimate the performance space was. While I was still taking in the ambience of the venue, a very bubbly Jenna-Lee Hyde (the one and only cast and performer) walked up to me and handed over a piece of paper which read “525924- Track 7 on every great record”. Then she said, “During the show, I’m going to call out the number 525924 and I’m going to need you to shout out the words on this paper. Can you do that for me?”. I nodded fervently and attempted to return the saccharin induced bubbly smile she still had on. She said thank you and moved on to the next person. Now I was intrigued.

In a matter of minutes, the lights dimmed and the show began. On the surface level, one could summarily describe Every Brilliant Thing as a 75-minute play about a girl who grows up with a suicidal mother and how this affects her psyche as she becomes a woman. However, for those who experienced the magic that is Jenna-Lee Hyde for those 75 minutes, it was much more than that. It was stand-up comedy act, a trip down nostalgia boulevard, a tragedy, and a therapy session all rolled into one.

First of all, I have to admit that I was wrong about the play being a solo show. Every member of the audience was given a piece of paper like I was and had a role to play at some point during the course of the show. Kudos to Jenna-Lee for picking the perfect personalities for the various roles and making the superbly choreographed show feel spontaneous and seamless. The audience got to play an array of characters such as: The veterinarian, her father, her love interest and the old couple who gives her juice. The show begins with her mother’s first suicidal attempt when she was seven. In an attempt to make her mother feel better, Jenna’s character begins to make a list of brilliant things. The list begins with very naive and bright things like “wearing a cape” and “rollercoaster”. As she grows older, however, the list becomes her survival mechanism for dealing with hurt leading up to the moment her mother finally taker her own life. The collaborative element of the show, where audience members read out one brilliant thing that the main character had taken note of, became an introspective experience that many of the audience members probably did not foresee.

Jenna’s ability to transition between comic and drama queen within the blink of an eye was the true marvel of the show. She took us on a very bumpy life journey but told each story distinctly and captivatingly. There was a moment in the show when Jenna’s character calls her elementary school counsellor years after her mother commits suicide that had the entire room teary-eyed and in sniffles. The breaks in Jenna’s voice and the waning innocence in her eyes made her performance more than believable, it made it real.

Duncan Macmillan’s masterful dialogue is also praiseworthy as it carries a pace and emotional connection that can only be described as genius. Aiding Macmillan’s dialogue and Jenna’s acting prowess was Charlie Peters’ lighting. The show had no intermission but every time you would begin to be tempted to think about the show’s running time, something would happen with the lighting to draw you deeper into the show. It cemented the intimate and engaging dynamics of the play in a way that was impressive because of how naturally and timely the switches occurred.

The play, which was shown during mental awareness week at the University of Regina, is an amazing conversation starter for the topic of depression and suicide. What makes this play particularly spectacular is how delicately it handles the “second-hand smoke” effect it has on the family and loved ones of those left behind.

Without a brilliant cast and crew, a show like Every Brilliant Thing runs the risk of being overlaboured, lifeless and being too cathartic. However, the show was handled with a team of people who knew what their job description was – make people think but also make them feel good. Not once did one outshine the other and not one beat was missed in the entire 75 minutes. Possibly one of the more brilliant additions to theatre in recent history, this production was without a doubt a triumph on every level.

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