The words that strike fear and terror into this critic’s heart are “audience participation.” So I was terrified on entering the B Street Theatre for the one-man show, “Every Brilliant Thing.”
Members of the audience were handed numbered cards and asked to read out what was written on the card when their number was called. I was relieved that I didn’t get a card. (Some people also said no, but most participated.)
But I need not have worried. Actor Dave Peirini is such a likable and friendly guy that this unusual, very funny and poignant play was like sitting in his living room and having a visit.
British playwright Duncan Macmillan, has created a play — which isn’t really a play — that you will recommend to your friends (as I recommend it to you!).
Peirini’s unnamed character tells how he coped with his mother’s depression and many suicide attempts, the first of which occurred when he was 7.
While his mother was in the hospital, he started “The List” on which he attempted to list every thing in this life that made him happy — things as diverse as “ice cream,” “things with stripes” and “thinking about dressing up as a Mexican wrestler.” He felt that by sharing The List with his mother, he could make her happy.
It never did, but he continued keeping The List and leaving bits of paper around the house for her to find. Ultimately he continued the list and wrote a million brilliant things. The project sustained him throughout the most difficult (and joyous) periods of his life.
In addition to reading words when cued, Peirini invited people from the audience to play scenes with him. The show we attended had wonderfully cooperative people. The gentleman playing Peirini’s father, who was then to play Peirini himself while Peirini took the father role, was just to ask “why?” after every comment. He was marvelous, giving a different meaning to the word “why” each time. The conversation took place on the way to the hospital after the first suicide attempt and he gave depth to the confusion of a 7-year-old.
There was also a school counselor, a veterinarian, a teacher and the girl with whom he fell in love. All played their parts well, but the love interest particularly well. She had the longest role.
The narrator is also a great lover of music and fond of playing bits of old vinyl records that I remember from my childhood. I enjoyed hearing the Ink Spots again!
My innate terrors aside, there is nothing uncomfortable about this piece. Everything Peirini does is designed to put the audience, and especially his unsuspecting volunteers at ease.
This is a comedy, but it has its poignant moments too, as when the young boy first learns about death and loss, when his beloved dog had to be put to sleep. The dog is a prop he borrows from someone in the audience.
Anyone who has ever lost someone (or something) loved, or anybody who was ever a lonely kid or felt like an outsider as an adult will find something familiar in this work, directed by Greg Alexander.
And because the script is so cleverly written, we are taken in by Peirini’s pain at his losses, though he puts on a good front. We’re willing to enter into whatever he would like to have us do because we want to be a part of helping him feel better.
“Every Brilliant Thing” is, well, a brilliant thing. You’ll leave the theater thinking that you just spent 90 minutes visiting an old friend.