Wednesday, October 16, 2019

#18) Theater Such as This: Unique, Superb 'Every Brilliant Thing' Should Be High on Your List -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Every Brilliant Thing
by Duncan Macmillan
directed by Jessica Fisch
starring Rebecca Spence
Windy City Playhouse (at Motor Row), Chicago
Thru December 8

Bruce Springsteen. The Chicago Cubs (even when they disappoint). A char cheddar Polish on French bread at Poochies. Harlan Coben's latest thriller, perpetually. Having the same best friend since the first day of kindergarten. Singing "Hey Jude" with Paul McCartney and 50,000 fans. Bulldogs. Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. My mom. The universal truths found in almost all Stephen Sondheim lyrics. A great saxophone solo. Twizzlers. La Dolce Vita. The great melting pot of the Red Line at Midnight. Posting a damn witty comment on Facebook (or so you want to believe). The way Nyquil coats your throat when it hurts like hell. Writing this blog.

In the terrific solo-performer play, Every Brilliant Thing--written by Duncan Macmillan and starring a man in its UK and NYC premieres, but featuring the fantastic Rebecca Spence here--the narrator speaks of having created a list of "brilliant things" in life, or reasons for living.

She initially does so at the tender age of 7, in 1984, when she quite suddenly becomes aware of her mother's suicidal tendencies and hopes to positively affect mom's worldview in the face of depression.

Continued intermittently throughout her life to the present day, Spence's list--the actress is not telling her own story, but we never learn her character's name--eventually gets to, well, let's just say well beyond five digits, not to give things away.

The string of items that opens this review of Every Brilliant Thing represents the start of my own such list--not meant in ranked order, as the narrator's isn't--apt not just due to thoughts the play inspired, but because the audience, seated in large, comfy chairs in an open floor space, is asked to participate.

To be clear, I don't mean that within the 80-minute one-act, we are asked to cite our own reasons for living, but rather prompted via props to enunciate items on Spence's list.

Hence, when she got to number 5, I shouted:

"Things with stripes!"

In addition to starring a woman speaking without an English accent, this production under the sharp direction of Jessica Fisch seemingly tinkered a bit with Macmillan's script to add some Chicago-centric references.

Not that Michael Jordan and the Art Institute of Chicago couldn't be seen as "brilliant"--which retains an Anglo parlance essentially meaning "awesome"--from far and wide, along with things like ice cream, sunlight and soul music, the latter factoring heavily into the show before it even officially begins.

During the monologue--mostly regarding her mom's struggles, but never to the point of being maudlin--Spence also engages a few audience members to help her dramatize some key interactions, with her dad, a school counselor and others I won't divulge.

Though Every Brilliant Thing also eventually broaches the narrator's own psychological challenges, the overriding vibe is amiable, warmhearted and life-affirming.

Yet, unless past iterations were performed quite difficulty, the Guardian blurb on the poster at top--about this being one of the funniest plays you'll ever see--doesn't really strike me as apt.

Spence comes across as effervescently likable and there are some moments of hilarity, plenty of crackling remarks in the script and some really clever list items, but this isn't by any means Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays (which actually had plenty of poignancy as well).

Unless you are entirely squeamish about ever speaking among a crowd--and I imagine your request to just sit and watch with no interaction would be respectfully accommodated--you should enjoy Every Brilliant Thing on many levels, and even laugh plenty.

But for me, the realistic-feeling drama of what transpires far outweighs the comedy, just as a matter of clarity. (There is also a bit of education about suicide, including that it can be quite contagious.)

Though anyone who knows me and/or this blog needn't need convincing that attending theater would be high on a list of things that bring me great joy and sustenance, seeing a show this unique and superlative could really warrant a berth of its own.

It's not just terrific, it's good for the soul.


So especially as, unlike me--somewhat unwittingly--you won't have to route yourself around the Chicago Marathon to see it, you really should get yourself down, and into, and enriched by, this brilliant thing.  

No comments: