Reviewed by Tomoko Miller
It started with a simple request as the crowd entered. “Would you like a card?” On a white index card was written “521. the word PLINTH.” The walls of the house at Flint Community Players were decorated with hundreds of similar index cards in pastel blue, yellow, and pink, and on each one written another cryptic bit of joy. “Bubble tea”. “Falling asleep in a freshly made bed”. At a table near the stage were pens and post-its with an invitation to add to the list on the walls. Seats were available on the stage for those audience members who wanted to be further enveloped in the atmosphere. Warm, cheerful, and welcoming was the least expected way to start a play about suicide.
Director Zachary Wood took the stage for a brief curtain speech and to give instructions to the card holders. As their numbers were said in the play, they were to yell out what was written on the card they received. The List Maker, played by the handsome and magnetic Brett Smith, took the stage a split second later. With the house lights at full brightness, what at first seemed like a mistake soon turned out to be by design. Blurring the line between actor and character, The List Maker relayed a story about his mother’s depression. Smith bounced around the audience as if telling a story to close friends.
While the script boasts a single actor, the characters abound. The List Maker enlisted those audience members closest to the stage as temporary fill-ins for the people in his life, going so far as to whisper lines into their ears or having them read lines off of props, although the playwrights, Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, have notably not included the mother as one of the speaking characters. Flirtatious at times, self-depreciating at others, Smith was most authentic when interacting with the audience, though slightly dry when monologuing. One hopes he will use his natural charisma to energize his performance in the future, as we wouldn’t mind seeing him perform again. Smith had little difficulty coercing people to perform alongside him. Zachary Wood’s addition of The Chorus, actors Levi Brownfield, Lindsay Brownfield, Jason Brownfield, Jessi Jean Eldredge, and Jeff Rogner, helped move along the pieces of the show with more dialogue from the other characters.
The List Maker narrates his life starting at 7-years-old and into his adulthood, starting with his mother’s attempted suicide and battle with depression. A child’s naive view of suicide set the tone for the show. His mother could be cured by simply making a list of all the things in the world that made life worth living. He adds to the list over the course of his life, sometimes adding items by thousands at a time, sometimes floundering as he went through his own life’s challenges.
The only thing that seemed lacking were the walls of the set. Also covered in colorful notecards, the walls themselves were left unpainted. A random mix of flats from previous shows created a chaotic and incohesive background to the beloved list. A sign with the rules of the list was hand-written and barely legible even when standing inches from the stage. This reviewer would have preferred a more orderly and elegant set, especially given that as of late the Players have had exceptional sets for their other shows. A small pile of props and furniture placed center stage was charming, and better served the feeling of moving through different times and settings. Also, the bits of music that occasionally illustrated the show were delightful and well-timed, but sometimes drowned-out dialogue. However, it was never long enough to detract from the enjoyment of the moment.
The real star is not the actor nor the audience, but how they interact with each other. A feeling of community seemed to wash over everyone as the evening progressed. For a show about suicide, it maintained an upbeat ambience with people laughing and yelling in their seats.
High fives all around, quite literally!
Every Brilliant Thing is rated PG and is a part of the Flint Community Players Ghost Light Series, which self-professes to spark conversation. With that in mind, there is a talk back at the end of the show in which the audience has the option of participating.
This weekend only, it shows again tonight, Saturday, November 23 at 7:30, and again Sunday, November 24 at 2:30. Tickets are $5 for college students, and $10 for adults.