Saturday, December 13, 2014

Every Brilliant Thing ***

It’s easy to understand why this one-man show was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but it’s hard to describe it in a manner that makes it sound appealing. It’s a comedy about depression, told by a narrator who, as a 7-year-old, started compiling a list of things that make life worth living, e.g. ice cream, roller coasters, water fights and the color yellow. The list is intended to cheer up his mother, who has just attempted suicide for the first time. The narrator is winningly played by British comedian Jonny Donahoe, who perfectly navigates a path between sentimentality and despair without a scratch. Before the show, he hands out slips of paper with items from the list to be called out by audience members at the appropriate moment. He also invites a few people to join him in scenes that involve important people in his life. I generally dread shows with audience participation, but it is handled here with gentleness and finesse. The play is filled with interludes of soulful music from his father’s record collection, which he has learned to use as a barometer of his father’s mood. As life goes on, the narrator keeps adding to the list, which plays a role in helping him find true love. However, his unshakeable fear of following in his mother’s footsteps keeps him from enjoying life fully for a long time. There are so many ways the tricky material could go wrong, but playwright Duncan Macmillan, co-writer and performer Donahoe and director George Perrin handle it brilliantly. If you’re going to be near the Barrow Street Theatre anytime soon, it’s a very pleasant way to spend an hour.

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