LATHAM — There were moments in Duncan MacMillan’s “Every Brilliant Thing,” a 65-minute one-person show now at Curtain Call, that reminded me of the famous concluding scene in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.”
The recently deceased Emily returns briefly to earth, where she observes that living folks don’t notice the simple things she suddenly realizes she misses about the life she knew: “Goodbye to clocks ticking… And Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee… And new-ironed dresses and hot baths… and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
In a clever and sometimes moving script, MacMillan presents us with a young man (Kevin Gardner) who demolishes the theatrical fourth wall in his effort to explain to us how he has gotten to this point in life despite his mother’s suicide attempts and his father’s retreat from the situation.
When he was age seven, his mother made her first attempt, prompting him to begin making a list of every brilliant thing he could find about daily living: The first item on the list was ice cream.
He learned then that if he wrote down the items that gave him pleasure, he could forestall the pain of thinking about mortality and, in the process, enjoy even the most quotidian aspects of life — which is all any of us have, of course.
We listen attentively as the young man describes these discovered joys and the people (a vet, a counselor, a professor, his father, his wife, for example) who help him keep going.
So a play with multiple references to depression and suicide becomes a play of hope.
One antidote to existential despair is community, and the genius of the play involves creating — in a sort of meta-theatrical way — community with the help of the audience.
Audience participation? Yes, but don’t be afraid.
Gardner is such an astute performer that he not only delivers pages of a scripted monologue without missing a beat but also improvises with tender regard for the audience members he has coaxed to the front of the house. He’s gentle, observant and extremely funny.
Naturally, your audience will not be the same as the one we were among on Friday, but it will be its own community with its special ethos — laughter and tears and thoughts.
Gardner is beautifully paced in his performance by director Carol Max, who has also worked creatively with the space at Curtain Call. In fact,
Gardner is seldom on the stage, working instead in front of it and in the aisles and rows. The tech team of Alex Dietz-Kest (sound), Lily Fossner (lighting), Lynne Skaskiw (props), and Jeremy Ward (stage management) provides subtle and spot-on support.
“Every Brilliant Thing” is an unusual night in the theater, one that makes us think afresh about every moment’s possibility.