Bril­liant show

NOW Magazine - - STAGE - Glenn sumi

ev­ery Bril­liaNt thiNG by Dun­can ñ

Macmil­lan (Cana­dian Stage). At the Berke­ley Street The­atre (26 Berke­ley). Runs to De­cem­ber 16. $49-$79. 416-368-3110. See Con­tin­u­ing, page 33. Rat­ing: NNNNN

Plays rarely ex­ploit the fact that an au­di­ence is watch­ing them, ex­cept to have an ac­tor oc­ca­sion­ally break the fourth wall. But Dun­can Macmil­lan’s re­mark­able Ev­ery Bril­liant Thing goes way be­yond that. We in the au­di­ence play a key role in the telling of the story, and our pres­ence en­hances the work’s main themes.

Kris­ten Thom­son plays an un­named char­ac­ter who, it turns out, has a fam­ily his­tory of men­tal ill­ness. She was seven years old when her mother first at­tempted sui­cide, and 17 when her mom tried again. She would later deal with de­pres­sion her­self.

As a child, she con­cocted a list – ref­er­enced in the show’s ti­tle – of things that she loved. That cat­a­logue, which in­cluded things like “ice cream” and “the colour yel­low,” ex­panded over the years to in­clude more ma­ture and even ab­stract things and be­came, we can in­tuit, an on­go­ing af­fir­ma­tion of life.

Here’s the nov­elty: be­fore the show be­gins, Thom­son dis­trib­utes num­bered pieces of pa­per rep­re­sent­ing items from that list to ran­dom au­di­ence mem­bers to be read out loud dur­ing the show.

And once the play be­gins, she chooses peo­ple to stand in for var­i­ous char­ac­ters: the vet who gen­tly put her child­hood dog to sleep; her fa­ther ex­plain­ing her mom’s first sui­cide at­tempt to her; a sym­pa­thetic teacher who used a sock pup­pet to com­mu­ni­cate; her first boyfriend.

This isn’t nearly as twee as it sounds. By par­tic­i­pat­ing we forge a con­nec­tion with Thom­son’s char­ac­ter and we be­come a part of her world. We share and wit­ness things that, dealt with alone, could be and of­ten are dev­as­tat­ing and over­whelm­ing.

Bren­dan Healy’s pro­duc­tion – his first di­rect­ing of a Cana­dian Stage show since tak­ing over the artis­tic reins – is richly at­mo­spheric, Steve Lu­cas’s light­ing and Richard Feren’s sound de­sign sin­gling out vivid mo­ments in the inthe-round stag­ing.

Thom­son is an en­gag­ing and em­pa­thetic per­former, care­fully nav­i­gat­ing ev­ery step of her char­ac­ter’s jour­ney (at one point she turns TV talk show host and runs up and down aisles with a mi­cro­phone) and grounded enough to make her im­pro­vised in­ter­ac­tions with the au­di­ence – with us – feel gen­uine.

Much like Macmil­lan’s Lungs, pre­sented here a few years ago, Ev­ery Bril­liant Thing doesn’t of­fer up a tra­di­tional nar­ra­tive. The “bril­liant things,” be­sides telling us about the char­ac­ter’s life, say a lot about what it means to be hu­man.

And if that’s not the essence of great the­atre, I don’t know what is.

Kris­ten Thom­son (right) steers this in­ter­ac­tive show in fas­ci­nat­ing di­rec­tions.

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