Toronto Star


Production of Every Brilliant Thing is light amid the cold, lonely darkness of winter,

- Carly Maga is a Toronto-based theatre critic and a freelance contributo­r for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @RadioMaga CARLY MAGA THEATRE CRITIC

Every Brilliant Thing (out of 4) Written by Duncan Macmillan with Johnny Donahoe. Directed by Brendan Healy. Until Dec. 16 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. CanadianSt­ or 416-368-3110

Every Brilliant Thing is a lifeaffirm­ing, wholesome and simple story of how existentia­l hope is achieved by focusing on the miracles of life’s minutiae.

Its timing at Canadian Stage, jutting up against cold weather and holiday-time stress and loneliness, isn’t coincident­al.

It’s a feel-good jolt of humanism from playwright Duncan Macmillan and British comedian Jonny Donahoe. So why did I end up feeling like the only Scrooge in the room?

In Brendan Healy’s production of the 90-minute play, his first after assuming the role of artistic director at Canadian Stage this summer, renowned Toronto actor Kristen Thomson ( The Wedding Party, Some- one Else, I, Claudia) steps into the role Donahoe originated in 2014 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where its success earned a four-month run off-Broadway and a years-spanning life around the world.

As is tradition, Thomson speaks directly to the audience in the round. Healy’s staging and Victoria Wallace’s set even strip the Berkeley Street Theatre of any semblance of a stage or theatrical facade, save for a few strings of Edison bulbs that hang overhead.

The most important element, though, is Steve Lucas’s lighting design: house lights are up and bright — and remain so throughout the play. The audience needs to be able to see and hear each other (seeing wasn’t a problem, hearing was another thing) just as crucially as Thomson herself.

As Thomson tells the firstperso­n story of the character who, at 7 years old, begins compiling a list of brilliant things after her mother first attempts suicide, the audience plays various roles: a veterinari­an who puts down her dog, the love of her life, her father, a nice old couple who give her juice and chocolate. The list grows longer and longer, and about 70 audience members fill it in by reading off cue cards handed out before the show.

Even if you’re not chosen to participat­e, there’s a natural extension of participat­ion from the creator to all audience members: what would be on your list of one million brilliant things?

This extremely collaborat­ive form of Every Brilliant Thing is a very literal way of inviting the audience into the approachab­le, accessible, even lightheart­ed tone that the play uses to discuss depression and suicide, a timely topic not only for the season but recent deaths of celebritie­s Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain (two examples that stand out, as Thomson says, for how the media should not cover suicides).

But, in practice, reading off a cue card doesn’t feel like an act of connection nor does watching another audience member fumble through an interactio­n often feel genuine.

For a show that deals with such heavy subject matter and has seemed to connect with so many audiences around the world, it surprising­ly lacks vulnerabil­ity and reads like a performanc­e.

Thomson is one of the city’s most celebrated actors and does a commendabl­e job of being a warm narrator and handling the script’s unconventi­onal tricks, but you can see the gears grinding behind the eyes.

As charming as the concept is, Macmillan’s focus on the list itself skirts over the nitty gritty of his own story.

It’s not really stated how the list changes the narrator’s views on life, only that it did. It doesn’t illuminate anything about the mother, only that she was mentally ill.

It does argue that life is full of an inconceiva­ble amount of joy and wonder, but is that enough?

 ??  ??
 ?? DAHLIA KATZ ?? Kristen Thomson is the narrator in Every Brilliant Thing, which Carly Maga says lacks vulnerabil­ity and reads like a performanc­e.
DAHLIA KATZ Kristen Thomson is the narrator in Every Brilliant Thing, which Carly Maga says lacks vulnerabil­ity and reads like a performanc­e.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada