by James O’Barr
Every Brilliant Thing, Harlequin Productions’ staging of the acclaimed, one-of-a-kind, one-woman one act, which has just opened at the Minnaert Center’s little jewel of a Black Box theatre at South Sound Community College, is itself a brilliant, a marvelous, or as your kid might say, an awesome thing. Smartly produced and wonderfully performed, it’s the best of live theatre, up close and personal, that totally engages us in a story that begs to be told and needs to be heard.
The work of English playwright Duncan Macmillan in collaboration with Irish performer Jonny Donahoe, the play distills the life-long efforts of the Narrator, whom we first meet as a child, to cope with a parent whose mental health is clearly marginal and whose chronic depression leads to several attempts over the years to end her life. When the Narrator’s father tells her that “your mom finds it hard to be happy,” the child decides to make a list for her mom of all the things she can think of that make life worth living, things like (#1) ice cream, and (#3) being allowed to stay up past your bedtime and watch TV. Over the years, the list evolves as the Narrator grows up and faces the many difficult challenges and hard choices that life inevitably brings and comes to realize that life also brings with it an endless array of small wonders, happy surprises, and everyday blessings that make it all worthwhile.
Eleise Moore, last seen at Harlequin showing off her terrific comedic chops as one of the three actors role-doubling close to 40 roles in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, happily has the stage to herself here. Simply dressed and warmly welcoming, when the doors open, she ushers people into the Black Box in-the-round seating, hands out cue cards for audience participation, cheerily explains how that participation will help her tell the story, and then introduces her 7-year-old heroine. In the words of director Aaron Lamb, the play “fundamentally includes the audience in the conversation,” and Moore’s bright and easy, confident and playful persona smoothes the way, until we are soon her willing collaborators. Because Moore is so at home on stage, and is such an adept improvisor, she keeps the story moving ahead, and the audience moving with her, no matter the momentary unscripted detours. It’s a tender magic that happens, as an anonymous group of theater-goers becomes an unlikely band of players.
Lamb has kept his direction simple and straightforward, willing to rely on the power of a crafty script and its contemporary relevance, and on Moore’s fearless performance. Jeannie Beirne’s scenic design, with several Afghan-esq carpets covering the play space, is just right. Sound — there are several recorded music cuts, integral and important to the story — is designed by Keith Jewell and managed by Richard Wheeler at the board.
As the audience walked out of the Black Box on opening night, they passed a large board, where one and all were invited to leave their own “brilliant things” written on post-it notes. One of them celebrated “The chance to see live theatre.” That’s one of the wonders of living in Olympia that deserves celebration, and there’s no better way to do it than to get tickets for yourself and your friends and family to Harlequin’s Every Brilliant Thing at the Minnaert Black Box. It’s a gift that will go on giving.
*Member of the Actor’s Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Production photography by Shanna Paxton Photography.
Every Brilliant Thing, 80 minutes run time, no intermission, suitable for 12 years and older
7:30 p.m. Oct. 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28
2 p.m. Oct. 21, 22, 25, 28
Minnaert Center Black Box Theatre, SPSCC, 2011 Mottman Rd SW, Olympia
General $43, senior/military $40, student/youth $28, groups 6+ $34.40
Pay What You Choose: Oct. 21 and 28 2 p.m.; Oct. 28
Rush Tix one-half hour before showtime: $21.50, $5 Teen Tix (19 & under ID required)