Review: “Every Brilliant Thing” at One Yellow Rabbit

Vicki Trask

OnStage Calgary Critic

There is a collection of truly wonderful interactive theatre currently performing around the world that so enraptures an audience that it moves them to their feet. In fact, some interactive theatre is so engaging that it only takes a single hour to fall in love with the lives of these people and the places they’ve made their mark.

“Every Brilliant Thing”, a one-act performance as part of the High Performance Rodeo hosted by One Yellow Rabbit, tells the story of one man’s life as he deals with his and his mother’s depression, through love, change, and forgiveness. Written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, the one-man show invites audiences into a very subdued and quiet world and fills it with light, and laughter. There is something so beautiful in telling a story like this with such positivity and hope. As actor Jonny Donahoe remarks – in his own way: “the way to survive the present is to believe the future will be better than the past.” That line of reasoning blankets the entire story from childhood to present, encouraging the audience to think about not only their theatre, but also their lives.

This team of three (Writer Duncan Macmillan, Performer Jonny Donahoe, and Director George Perrin) have turned the Victor Mitchell into a theater in the round that brings the audience into the narration and captures their attention until time passes differently. Truly engaging theatre stops time until you lose all track of everything. Before I realized anything, an hour had passed and we were ushered back into reality. Jonny told this story so concisely, that we managed to cry, laugh, lose hope, and fall in love in such a short amount of time.

From moment one, the lights dim and we are immediately thrust into the world of seven year old Jonny, trying desperately not to laugh at his trials and tribulations. The subject matter is serious – make no mistake about that; serious and real. This character hits home whether you have personal experience with depression and suicide or not. The fantastic thing about this difficult topic is the warm and kind way he discusses it. It made something dark and terrifying into something we could laugh at and take hope from and I not only found that to be kindly refreshing, but also a much needed breath of fresh air in these dark times. We don’t need to shy away from the grim and sadness, but we needn’t be bogged down by their inevitability. For nothing else, I loved the story and the message “Every Brilliant Thing” gives us.

Oh, but Jonny Donahoe; behind this story is a friendly face, an inviting demeanour, and a smart sense of humour. A lot of this narration involves audience participation and actively working with the others in the room to complete the experience; I was so happy to see such a capable and generous person at the helm. Jonny brought a warm and inviting presence to the room and I would happily go see this production again and again – even if it made me tear up and shift in my seat. This is not a comfortable tale. I squirmed; I avoided eye contact; I stifled laughter when I knew I shouldn’t laugh. And the space doesn’t allow you to hide a single reaction; Jonny doesn’t allow you to hide anything either. The man is brilliantly brave: he owned the focus of every audience member he passed, walking up and down the aisles with confidence. For such a small space, he commanded a stadium. I was so enthralled with his performance. Thank you.

What is there left to say except that “Every Brilliant Thing” is an astounding piece of art. I enjoyed every moment at the Victor Mitchell and I encourage anyone who is able to see this show performing until January 21st.