“Ice cream.” “Water fights.” “Roller coasters.” These are a few of the brilliant things that audience members are prompted to call out during this engaging performance.
Update, Mar 13, 2020: In light of recommendations concerning social distancing and COVID-19, ZACH has decided to cancel performances of Every Brilliant Thing, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show and postpone camps and classes through March 31.
“Every Brilliant Thing” was adapted from the story by Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe. It is a one man show at Austin’s ZACH Theatre, but narrator Kriston Woodreaux fills the room with his stage presence. Under the direction of Nat Miller, the play makes emotions run wild through those watching.
Audience members were laughing one moment and teary-eyed the next as Woodreaux delivered his lines with feeling. There was a high-energy moment when Woodreaux decided to high-five everyone there. Suddenly, the tone changed as the narrator addressed his mother’s attempted suicide.
This emotional story starts when the narrator is young, and takes us through his realization of his mother’s depression and his attempts to make her feel better. He starts a list of “Every Brilliant Thing” there is in life to encourage his mother to go on. There are three rules for his list: things must not repeat, they must be truly brilliant, and there mustn’t be too many material items.
The audience also becomes attached to the list, as they are each given two items from it to shout out. “By mixing the voice of the audience with the words of the playwright, we are telling this story together,” Miller explains.
Pre-show, audience members sensed they could be out of their comfort-zone as Woodreaux passed out objects with numbers and random words. This kept audience members engaged. I was given a mustard top with the word “hammock” written on it, and a notecard with “spaghetti and meatballs,” which I had to be ready to say when I heard my number. I’ll admit that I was caught off-guard at first when my number was called because I was so enthralled with the story.
Some of the audience were also lucky enough to play major roles in the story. One man played the narrator’s father, and even came on stage to act out the role alongside Woodreaux. He later gave a completely improvised speech. One woman from the crowd took off her shoes and wore a sock on her hand to counsel the young narrator through a sock puppet. All of this added to how we were creatively taken through the narrator’s life story, even when times got tough.
And times did get tough. From dealing with depression at a young age, to falling in and out of love as he grew, we saw his journey of love, loss, heartache and hope. As a central line from the play states, “Without hope we couldn’t go on.” The narrator finds his hope through his list, and the audience comes to realize how important it is to take notice of the little things in life too.
Music also progresses the story along. The narrator grew up with mostly jazz, and knew the rules that came from music in his household. For example, if his dad was playing chaotic jazz which sounded like “all the instruments were falling down the stairs,” he knew he wasn’t to enter his dad’s office. As he got older, music was a way for him to cope, and melodies often matched his emotions. He would skip college lectures and listen to records all day.
Although this story was not Woodreaux’s, he could relate to it. “I went through a lot of misdiagnoses to find out later in life that what I had was Type 2 narcolepsy, which has symptoms similar to those of depression.” Up to a year ago, he and his father never talked about mental health. “My mom has bipolar disorder, which I found out through family members. There are stigmas surrounding topics like mental health.” He described his connection to the play, “I love this show because it gives people the opportunity to just listen for a little bit and feel like we all share that collective experience.”
As the narrator, Woodreaux speaks out against taking one’s own life, and leaves audience members with advice, “Don’t do it. Things will get better. They might not always be brilliant, but they get better.”
Finally, we see how the list grows as the narrator grows, and all the brilliant things fill up many boxes.The narrator and his father spend long, sleepless nights typing up the list, and finally make it to the millionth brilliant thing: “Listening to a record for the first time.”
Cover photo Kirk Tuck
Gracie Watt is the Digital Intern at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and a sophomore at St. Edward’s University in Austin, studying Journalism. When she’s not writing, Watt enjoys singing, playing the guitar and doing volunteer work. @gracie.whatt