A charmer of a one-man show given depth by clever writing and imaginative staging
By Joel Benjamin
Even for those who are adamantly audience-participation adverse—like me!—it’s hard to refuse Every Brilliant Thing’s star Jonny Donahoe anything. Handed a piece of colored paper, I took a deep breath and fired off my two word bit (“Water fights”) on cue, not once but twice! The papers he distributed contained some of the “brilliant things” of the title, a very, very long optimistic list of things to live for. This list was at first an attempt to buck himself up after the death of his pooch Sherlock Bones, then as a futile tool to help his manic-depressive mom.
Energetic and charming, Mr. Donahoe tells of a life lived in relative comfort—including his buddy, the pup Sherlock Bones—surrounded by his two intelligent parents whose love of sophisticated American pop and blues music becomes a running theme of the show. When a veterinarian, enacted by an audience member has to put down poor Sherlock the idea of the list is born. The very observant youngster knows that his mother is ill. Her suicide attempts provoke more and more additions to the list.
He shyly courts coed Sam, their relationship progressing slowly to marriage and a ménage that includes pussycat Margaret Scratcher. (This does take place in England, after all!) The ups and downs of his relationship with Sam and the fate of his parents as written by Duncan Macmillan in this heartfelt play make for a touching and strangely involving show. Somehow his fate and all the colorful characters in his life become important to us. Perhaps watching fellow audience members enact some of the characters makes us invest more in the outcome of this chamber play. The eponymous list gets lost and found and the pages get yellowed and fragile, but it provides an emotional support that nothing else seems to do in this fellow’s life.
The songs that form the soundtrack of his life include those by Ray Charles, Billie Holliday, Chicago, Cab Callaway and others, providing mood and metaphor, enriching Mr. Macmillan’s libretto.
It is Jonny Donahoe that keeps Every Brilliant Thing going. His performance is quick-footed, intelligent and mercurial. He is simply so likeable that spending these 70 minutes with him is a pleasure that shouldn’t be missed.
*Photo: Matthew Murphy
Every Brilliant Thing – through March 29, 2015
Barrow Street Theatre 27 Barrow St. at 7th Ave. S. New York, NY
Tickets: 212-868-4444 or www.SmartTix.com
More Information: www.everybrilliantthing.com
Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission