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Every Brilliant Thing
by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe
Directed by Tom Kopp
R-S Theatrics
November 15, 2018

R-S Theatrics’ latest production, Every Brilliant Thing, is an unusual play. In fact, it’s more of an extended monologue, or even a conversation, than a play. With more than a few interactive elements and opportunities for the audience to join in telling the story, it may be a challenge for introverts in the audience, although I’m an introvert and I enjoyed it a lot. Especially, it’s an excellent showcase for its central performer, Nancy Nigh.

Aside from the audience-participation elements, Every Brilliant Thing is a one-person show. It covers some topics that may be difficult for some audience members, so trigger warnings are included (and resources for information and help are offered in the program). It was originally performed in the UK by co-author Jonny Donahoe, who eventually performed the show in various places around the world, including New York. Here, the central character, referred to as “Narrator” in the program, is played by the excellent Nancy Nigh, who narrates the show as a version of herself, and as if the events in the play have happened to her personally. It’s a short show, only running a little over an hour, but a lot happens during that hour, as Nigh recounts the story of her life and how she deals with her mother’s depression and suicide attempts over the years. Her particular way of coping has been through a list of various things in life that are worth celebrating, which is where the play gets its title. It’s a story, but it’s all very conversational, as Nigh talks to the audience, distributes sections of the list for audience members to read when she calls out the numbers, and recruits a few audience members to participate in her story, playing her favorite childhood school teacher, her father, her love interest, and more. It’s a quirky, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes emotional and extremely personal show that has been adapted well to a St. Louis setting, although the Britishisms in the script (“Tea and Biscuits”, for instance) are still apparent.

The star of the show here is obviously Nigh, who is especially engaging as she navigates the story and all its emotional highs and lows. She deftly manages a strong rapport with the audience, as well, along with a strong stage presence and sense of character, even though she’s playing this “as herself”. This is a particularly challenging role considering the interactive aspects of it and how Nigh, while she handpicks her “co-stars” doesn’t know who is going to turn up each night and so there is an element of surprise for her as well as for the audience. Nigh rises to the challenge admirably. It’s an impressive performance.  Also impressive is the sound design, by Mark Kelley, and the coordination of the sounds and music that happen on cue as needed. Although the show’s production values are fairly minimal, since there isn’t really a set and there are no costume changes, the sound is what especially stands out, augmenting the show’s dramatic and interactive nature.

Every Brilliant Thing is a lot of things, kind of like the list that serves at its heart. It’s poignant, it’s incisive, it’s witty, and it’s anchored by a particularly strong central performance. Keeping in mind the sensitive subject matter, this is a show that makes a strong impression in a short time. It’s one to check out.

R-S Theatrics is presenting Every Brilliant Thing at the Kranzberg Arts Center until December 2, 2018

 

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