A theater group from the Utah Shakespeare Festival recently came to my school (and many others) to put on a one-man performance called "Every Brilliant Thing."
If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a show about a man who, from a young age, is forced to deal with really heavy and difficult things, most notably depression and attempted suicide.
"Every Brilliant Thing" manages to keep a lighthearted tone, through humor and by showing how this person, portrayed by actor Jeremy Thompson, copes with all of the hard stuff he faces: "The List" (one of those names that, even when spoken, has capital letters).
The List is filled with “every brilliant thing” that's worth living for. It could be anything from ice cream to the alphabet. Throughout the story, the character adds new things to The List as he finds new brilliant things.
I enjoyed this play for a couple of reasons. First, the technical factor. Like I said, this was a one-man show, and Thompson talked and told stories for an hour and a half. Instead of just standing on stage and presenting his idea, he included the audience, with things like yelling out one of the items on The List, or acting out one of his stories.
One particularly good moment was his story of when he met his wife, in a library. They had been trading book recommendations, and she found his list tucked into one of the books, which happened to be one of his childhood favorites. He, naturally, was quite embarrassed by this but then they bonded over it. Because of their meeting, The List expanded farther and farther, both through them and other friends.
• Story continues below video
In the performance, the actor invited members of the audience to help act things out, with him serving as narrator. I especially liked those parts where Thompson invited people to help tell the story. I think that the audience was much more engaged than they would’ve been if they had watched a traditional show instead. If they were anything like me, they found something to connect to and walked out pondering.
Another reason that I liked "Every Brilliant Thing" was the plot, as well as its execution. I found myself drawn into the character's story, and though there were sad things within it, it was handled well. You could find yourself laughing, then crying only a few lines later.
An added plus was the lessons learned. The play taught that it’s OK to be sad; in one scene, the performer talks about how his unwillingness to accept that idea and get help for it leads to his wife leaving him. She left reminders of his list in places she knew he’d find them, and eventually, his list grows to a million things.
The play also teaches the value of recognizing those things you’re grateful for. A good example here was toward the beginning of the story. Throughout the play, his mother tries to kill herself multiple times. The first time she tried, the guy was 7, and that was what inspired him to create The List. At first, it was for his mother. He’d write notes with parts of The List and stick them in places she could find them.
Eventually, The List became more for himself. Though it was born out of a sad event, it led to him recognize those good things in life, and that’s something that we all can do too.
In an article published by Harvard Health Publishing, it says, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
When you’re grateful for the brilliant things when they are easy to see, it makes it that much simpler to see them when times are harder.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival website, under its touring information for this production, sums up the lessons taught in the show better than I can with a description of the play’s themes: “You are not alone. You are not weird. It gets better. Life goes on.”
If you ever wonder, just know that you’ve got this.