It might just be a result of going to one of the more liberal colleges in South Carolina, but every time I hear the words “experimental theatre” and “one-woman show,” I’m struck with the overwhelming urge to do literally anything else. However, the concept behind Every Brilliant Thing was interesting enough that despite being immediately asked to participate in the proceedings after taking my seat, I wasn’t tempted to turn and walk out the door — and only moments into the play, I knew that I had made the right choice.
The ineffable Amelia Sciandra takes on the role of the unnamed narrator, a little girl whose mother struggles with depression and attempts to take her own life several times over the course of her daughter’s lifetime. In an attempt to prevent her from making any more attempts, our protagonist creates a list of “all the brilliant things in the world,” which range from ice cream, to the smell of old books, and the way that Ray Charles sings the word, “you.” Sciandra’s talents added warmth and meaning to a play that, if poorly handled, could read a little bit too much like an after school special. “If you’re contemplating suicide,” she pleads towards the end of the performance, “I promise, it gets better.”
To tackle a subject of suicide — the suicide of a parent, no less — is a difficult task, and Sciandra manages to address the darker aspects of human life without coming across as preachy, a feat often unmanageable in theatre, and particularly in a one-woman show. The facts presented are important, and addressed point blank, never danced around; at one point, she lists statistics and guidelines for how suicide is supposed to be presented in the media, decries the Werther effect, and underscores the importance of therapy.
The true brilliance of the production is its ability to be presented in a comedic yet completely serious way. The funny and quick-moving action is punctuated by segments of seriousness, which are the teaching moments of the play. Of course, Sciandra’s obvious experience in acting doesn’t hurt — she convincingly absorbs every aspect of the narrator to where the audience forgets it isn’t actually her story.
“If you live a long life and get to the end of it without ever once having felt crushingly depressed, then you probably haven’t been paying attention,” Sciandra announces about halfway through the performance. This line is a good summary of the whole show; it’s straight-forward, factual, a bit cynical, humorous, and very, very true. It does a great job of talking about topics that many people deem off-limits, and after leaving the theater, you realize that the show actually taught you something while effortlessly captivating your attention.
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