'Every Brilliant Thing' by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
New Stages, Peterborough
Photo of Steve Ross by Andy Carroll
In this deftly handled solo piece that treats the subject of suicide and depression with care and compassion, Steve Ross is a tower of vulnerability, strength, and courage.
Is it possible to find any solace and comfort in a story dealing with suicide and depression?
Stratford Festival alum and Canadian performing artist Steve Ross has done so in a one-man performance showcasing his solid acting chops. Here is an ordinary-looking guy dressed comfortably in a red plaid untucked shirt which hangs over his black Levi jeans. Ross wears comfortable-looking black dress shoes that have been neatly polished for this opening night performance.
While he poked fun at himself several times, there’s no denying there’s more going on underneath this average look of a genial and amiable gentleman who greets all theatregoers individually and connects warmly with us as we enter the auditorium. Ross gives each audience member a card with a number and a one-sentence statement. He reminds us that when he calls out that number during the show, the audience member is to say that sentence out loud.
Yes, there is audience participation. I know some may not feel comfortable with this audience interaction but go along with it as it is extremely important to hear as many voices as possible. I saw this play at Canadian Stage a few years with artist Kristen Thomson in the central role. I was keen to see Steve Ross trod the boards in the role this time as he allowed me to see once again how important it is to remain hopeful when it may appear that there is none.
The staging is not a typical play. The house lights remain up for the approximately 80-minute show as Ross moves around the auditorium and tries to make eye contact with each person in a brief human connection. He does bring some people out of the audience. It is a three-quarter theatre in the round staging with Esther Vincent (Stage Manager and Sound Designer) sitting stage left with the sound cues at the ready.
At times the story is not a happy one. As a young boy, the narrator has to euthanize his dog Sherlock Bones (love that name). This is the first time the young boy learns that life is not forever. As a young boy of six years of age, he also tells us at the top of the show that his family life is not the greatest. His mother is in the hospital and his father says she’s ‘done something stupid’. He’s having difficulty understanding why his mother has done what she has done so, to combat this awkward feeling of not understanding, he makes a list of every brilliant thing in the world worth living for.
He lists the first three things that make his life worth living as a young boy: 1. Ice cream 2. Water fights and 3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
Oh, how those three things on the list put a smile on my face and brought me back to my childhood youth.
As the Narrator begins to grow up and his life begins to move forward, it was interesting to note how the motivation for the list changes at various points in his life. Clearly, his mother’s attempted suicide and depression play havoc with his social and emotional development. He’s alone a lot and has difficulty making friends. But we do see him connect with a girl in the library at his university (a female member of the audience whom Ross selects at random) and learn they get married after graduation. We also follow them through their relationship turmoil and trouble.
The program stated director of this production, Randy Read, continued the original director Linda Kash’s vision of the play in showcasing how important it is to continue looking for every brilliant small thing no matter the adversity or trial of any kind we may experience in our lives. 'Every Brilliant Thing' is a challenge for any actor since the individual must carry the show along while ensuring the pacing never slows down. It doesn't in this production.
At one point, Ross air high-fives each of us as he runs up and down the stairs and around the auditorium. Wow! The energy from that guy! If anything, he did deserve that momentary rest before continuing.
What made this performance work soundly for me was Steve Ross keeping and maintaining his emotions in check and balance. Thankfully he never ventures into histrionics because that would have been the death of this piece. One of Ross’s strengths is his natural comic ability to improvise right on the spot. There were a couple of moments when I smiled and wondered how he was going to cover a response from a couple of audience members. He did and kudos to him for doing it.
Final Thoughts: ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ becomes a continued reminder for each of us to hold on in the face of any kind of adversity and trial because as the Narrator says: “It will get better.” Director Randy Read (with Linda Kash’s vision) importantly makes us feel how each of us is of value and worth in this life.
The production is just a short run at the Market Hall and I hope local audiences will get out to support the production and see a fine actor at work in his craft.
I hear there is a talkback after each performance. There was one at the opening night performance where I listened to what other audience members were thinking as well. Steve really wanted to really hear and listen to the thoughts of the audience, and I was rather touched by this selfless act for others.
Running time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.
Performances continue to Saturday, Jan 21, 2023, at 7:30 pm with a final performance on Sunday, Jan 22, 2023, at 2:00 pm. All performances take place at Market Hall, 140 Charlotte Street, Peterborough, Ontario. For tickets: tickets.markethall.org or at the Box Office.
EVERY BRILLIANT THING by Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe
Directed by Randy Read. The original January 2020 production was directed by Linda Kash and her vision continues with this production.
With Steve Ross
Stage Manager and Sound Designer: Esther Vincent