Story: When she was 6 years old, our narrator’s life was turned upside down by her mother’s attempted suicide as well as the death of her beloved dog, Sherlock Bones. A veterinarian put Bones to sleep, and suddenly life was replaced by an empty shell.
Naturally those were traumatic experiences, but the resilient little girl had an idea: She would begin compiling a list of “every brilliant thing” in her life. There were only three rules: No repeats, not too much materialism and, most of all, they had to be genuine.
She began the list with ice cream and quickly added water fights, chocolate, staying up late, sunshine and others of life’s simple but gratifying pleasures. As she recites items on that roster, which grew exponentially through the years, she tells us about her love for her mother and for her father, who occasionally would play the piano that was situated in the family’s kitchen, of all places.
She recalls how she continued to add “palindromes” and “the color yellow” and “friendly cats” to the list as she grew into a teenager and eventually adulthood. She remembers when she first realized that her mother no longer loved her father, and also how a little girl tried to comprehend why her mother was so sick.
She reveals to us the moment when she met a cool boy at the library in college, how they became lovers and eventually married each other. She remembers the toast her father made at her wedding. She also recalls a favorite teacher from her childhood, one who used a sock puppet to try to explain how bad things sometimes happen to good people.
As she takes us into the present, the one constant in her life is that ever-increasing list of “every brilliant thing.” It’s filled with hope and wonder and fascination and making the best of each moment. Maybe even with piano accompaniment in the kitchen.
Highlights: R-S Theatrics’ eighth season, “The Season of the Not-So-Perfect Past,” continues with a heartwarming performance by Nancy Nigh of this sweet and charming tale that is receiving its St. Louis premiere.
Other Info: Nigh does an impressive job deftly handling not only memorizing the myriad details in the one-hour drama’s script but also in casually integrating audience members into the story, per playwright Duncan Macmillan’s wishes. Under Tom Kopp’s steady and deliberate direction, Nigh makes those considerable tasks seem effortless and engaging throughout.
Macmillan’s play was first performed in England in 2013 and has since seen multiple productions both in the United Kingdom and the United States. That’s easy to understand, since it taps into universal subjects. Even if suicide hasn’t been a problem in a particular family, chances are someone has experienced depression at one point or another wondering about the hurly-burly aspects of life and the great unknown after its conclusion.
Performing on a minimal set with just a stool in the center of the floor, Nigh maintains her character’s upbeat nature, even convincing various observers to participate in the story by playing her father or her boyfriend or her teacher or even herself at times, or simply reading numbered “brilliant things” from cardboard handouts provided by the narrator before the show begins.
Heather Tucker’s useful props include boxes filled with ‘stuff’ which triggers our narrator’s memory as she moves around and across the stage in this theater-in-the-round performance.
Macmillan’s tale weaves back and forth in various times in the narrator’s life, buoyed by her consistently positive personality despite her family’s travails. That attitude is accentuated with Mark Kelley’s jazzy sound design, which references her father’s taste in music, from Cab Calloway to instrumental riffs.
Every Brilliant Thing is a short, sweet and satisfying sojourn taken by the audience with its friendly and reassuring narrator down a road readily identifiable to virtually everyone.
Play: Every Brilliant Thing
Company: R-S Theatrics
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: November 23, 24, 25, 30, December 1, 2
Tickets: $20-$25, contact 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Artwork courtesy of R-S Theatrics