Day 4: Miraculous little play about suicide celebrates living life to the fullest
In a year laden with conflict and division and meanness in the world, Every Brilliant Thing was like a gentle orb of light and healing that bounded from Aurora to Dillon to Fort Collins in 2019, bringing compassion and understanding and catharsis to audiences all along the way. Which is all the remarkable given that it’s a play about suicide.
Only it’s really the opposite. It’s about living life to the fullest and appreciating all its ordinary, everyday wonders. Like breaking in a new baseball glove, or taking a nap by the fireplace, or 999,998 other tiny things. Like ice cream. Water fights. Staying up past your bedtime. A dog named Sherlock Bones.
This most remarkable little play, written by Duncan Macmillan, could best be described as an interactive monologue. It’s a simple, 70-minute conversation between one actor and an audience. The fact that this narrator could be played by a man or woman, young or old, speaks to the play’s universal message. The story revolves around the narrator’s lifelong attempt to cope with his (or her) mother’s depression by creating an unending list of everything that makes life worth living. As we follow the child into adulthood, audience members become characters in the story, such as the narrator’s father, schoolteacher and eventually spouse.
Colorado theatre audiences had the remarkable opportunity to see this theatrical experiment play out through three very different actors in separate productions staged by the Vintage Theatre in Aurora; the Lake Dillon Theatre Company; and OpenStage Theatre & Company in Fort Collins: John Ashton, Colt Neidhardt and Jessica Emerling Crow. The luckiest got to see all three.
Further good was done by each production working in partnership with local suicide awareness groups, including Building Hope and the Summit County Community Care.
And, on a personal note: As a journalist who sees a lot of plays that seem to exist only to explore just how uncivil and cruel we humans can be to one another, it was a welcome relief to feel something at the theatre this year that wasn’t despair or rage – which hasn’t happened all that often of late.
“If you live a long life and get to the end of it without ever feeling crushingly depressed, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.” – Every Brilliant Thing
- Actor: John Ashton, playwright, director, journalist, 2017 True West Award winner and Colorado Theatre Guild Lifetime Achievement winner
- Director: Peter John Hughes
- Critics corner: “As John Ashton talks through his mother’s suicide attempts, his father’s emotional distance and his bouts of romance, he calmly and sneakily lures Aurora theatergoers into his cool snare.” – Quincy Snowdon, Aurora Sentinel. “John Ashton has gone soft in all the best ways in his 70s. His performance is cloaked in gentleness, sincerity and heart. And the chemistry he shared with the stranger in the audience he picked to play his wife was as real as any relationship I have seen on stage in a long while. And she’s neither an actor – nor Ashton’s wife.” – John Moore
Openstage Theatre & Company
- Actor: Jessica Emerling Crow
- The actor says: “Ultimately, the human experience boils down to a handful of basic emotions. Even if you haven’t been through exactly what I have, you have felt the same feelings. The great thing about this play is that everyone can connect through joy. The challenge is being present enough to recognize it.”
- Director: Sydney Parks Smith
- Critics corner: “Crow is spectacular. She effortlessly involves the crowd by moving about the stage and the seats making determined eye contact with each of us. Her interaction with each audience member is genuine and easy, and her talents at improvisation are beyond impressive.” – Kari Redmond, OnStage Colorado
Lake Dillon Theatre
- Actor: Colt Neidhardt, also Director of Education and Community Outreach for the Lake Dillon Theatre Company
- He says: “Every Brilliant Thing is a play that touches on mental health and suicide with comic sincerity and the goal of destigmatizing its central topic. The suicide rate is up 24 percent over the past 15 years nationwide, and Colorado consistently has some of the highest suicide rates in the country, making this play a socially relevant and impactful evening of theatre.”
- Director: Melinda Pfundstein
About The True West Awards: ’30 Days, 30 Bouquets’
The True West Awards, now in their 19th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2019 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre magazine in 2011. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org