Encore Michigan

‘Every Brilliant Thing’ at Open Book works brilliantly

Review January 21, 2024 David Kiley

TRENTON, MI–“Every Brilliant Thing” is a heartwarming and thought-provoking play that tackles the complexities of mental health with a unique and engaging approach. Written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, this one-actor  show takes the audience on a journey through a list of “brilliant things” that the protagonist compiles to help their mother cope with depression.

The play’s strength lies in its simplicity and the intimate connection it establishes with the audience.  Featuring Steve “Stebert” Davenport, the format involves Steve interacting with the audience members, sometimes incorporating them into the narrative. This interactive element adds a layer of authenticity to the storytelling, making it feel personal and relatable.

On the way in to the Open Book space, patrons are encouraged to take slips of paper with numbers and statements. This reviewer’s read “1008: Dancing in Private.” Steve rattles off the numbers throughout the play, as he tells the story of his coping with his late Mother’s mental illness, and the audience members read aloud the “Brilliant Thing” on their slip of paper.

This is not a spoiler. The playwrights employed this device to involve the audience because we all have people in our lives that suffer from mental illness, whether it is depression, substance abuse, both at once, or other mental illnesses.

The script cleverly combines humor and poignant moments, balancing the heavy subject matter of mental health with moments of joy and celebration. The list of “brilliant things” serves as a touching reminder of the beauty in life, even in the face of adversity. The play skillfully captures the essence of resilience and the power of human connection.

Directed by Kat Walsh, Davenport’s performance is touching and compelling, navigating between humor and vulnerability. His ability to engage the audience and create a sense of shared experience is key to this production’s success. The minimalist set design by Krista Schafer, with the Open Book space configured “in the round,” enhances the focus on the narrative and the performer, allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in the story.

Harley Miah provided lighting design. Angeline Fox Maniglia is costume designer. Matt Steward is sound designer, and his main job is to bring specific and plot-meaningful music cuts into the action.

“Every Brilliant Thing” is an exploration of mental health that encourages empathy and understanding. It’s a testament to the human spirit’s capacity for resilience and the impact of small, positive moments in our lives.

Mental illness is all around us, impacting the lives and health of our loved ones, neighbors, friends and co-workers. Understandably, engaging with mental illness can be mysterious and fearsome for many. “Every Brilliant Thing’ can, for some, demystify mental illness and free us to engage and help.