Can a play about modern anxieties, depression and suicide also be light-hearted and fun? Following the success of last year’s Mary’s Wedding, Rook’s Theatre and Diversion Entertainment (formerly Flat Earth Global) have reunited on this exact concept with a script that is warm and is guaranteed to connect with an audience in their latest collaboration.

Every Brilliant Thing opens with a seven-year-old attempting to make sense of the depression that possesses her mother. Following the first of several suicide attempts, the youngster creates a list of everything that is brilliant about the world- everything that makes life worth living. But the list takes on a life of its own as the child grows and matures (adding items accordingly), until the list in itself becomes an ongoing celebration of life.

While this may sound like perfect fare for a drama, Every Brilliant Thing is actually a heartfelt comedy. The production was written by Duncan MacMillan and originally interpreted and performed by British comedian Johnny Donahue. The resulting tour across the United Kingdom and North America was so successful that HBO produced a documentary about it in 2016.

Since it’s Canadian premiere in 2018, Every Brilliant Thing has been produced numerous times from coast to coast. A quick Google search brings up performances in Surrey, London, Saskatoon, Peterborough and Winnipeg- all within the past month alone. 

In the Hamilton premiere, Stephanie Hope Lawlor plays the young child who grows up and keeps contributing to her list. As the main character in a one-person show, she narrates her experiences growing up against a backdrop of mental illness and her own struggles with love, loss and depression as an adult. 

However, Lawlor is not the only character in the production. As she recounts memories, audience members are invited to fulfill key roles throughout the production, from a veterinarian to her first boyfriend and even the role of her father. Very few shows rely so heavily on the audience to fulfill these key roles and continue the momentum of the production- something Lawlor confesses is both a challenge and opportunity.

“I’ve never done a one-person show like this,” Lawlor admits. “but I think that’s also a beautiful opportunity for my own personal growth as a performer. It’s encouraging me to focus on being present, telling my story, and listening to the energy of the people around me. That’s really the job of the actor, isn’t it?”

To prepare, Lawlor is focusing on the integrity of the story, so that she can utilize the momentum created by enthusiastic audience members to progress her character’s journey, while recognizing that she may not receive the same level of participation night after night. In such a case, it will be Lawlor’s role to guide the audience back to the story of her central character.

Encouraging this level of participation also requires a risk on the part of the audience member- something Lawlor is also preparing for. “The participation in this show is so gentle. . .It’s not about embarrassing anybody of making them feel silly. It’s very much about sharing in a singular moment that only this particular group of people will ever experience. It’s so special.”

At seventy-five minutes in length, Every Brilliant Thing tackles some heavy issues in an intense period of time; namely, depression, suicide and the way it impacts family members. Recognizing that this topic may resound with audience members after the show has ended, Rooks Theatre and Diversion Entertainment have arranged for post-show talkbacks with the Canadian Mental Health Association following select performances. As Artistic Director of Rooks Theatre, Lawlor notes that addressing mental health both on and offstage are important to her, and hopes the audience finds opportunities to resonate with the character and experience of the production as well.

“The unique thing about this play is that it’s about the journey of somebody fighting against falling into those familiar patterns. We fall in love with their optimism and hope and are reminded of the tiny joys in life. All the things worth living for.”

Who: Rook’s Theatre & Diversion Entertainment
What: Every Brilliant Thing
Length: Approximately 75 minutes
Where: The Infinity Forge (468 Cumberland Avenue)
When:  March 14, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, 2020 at 8pm
Tickets: $30 through Eventbrite

Feature photo courtesy of Rook’s Theatre.

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