‘Every Brilliant Thing’ comes to BTE stage

BLOOMSBURG — Size-wise, whether little or large, insignificant or monumental, “Every Brilliant Thing” shines in its own unique way.

The professional Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble concludes its Main Stage 2018-19 season with “Every Brilliant Thing,” with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursdays through Saturdays, with 3 p.m. Sunday matinees, now through May 19 at the Alvina Krause Theater, 226 Center St.

This season’s shows ran the gamut from having the entire ensemble on stage together (“The Explorer’s Club”), to a new holiday tradition (“The Wizard of Oz”) and from the high tech, much acclaimed “The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time,” to one person presentations (Laurie McCants’ “Industrious Angels”) and the current offering, “Every Brilliant Thing.”

“Every Brilliant Thing” is indeed an unconventional evening of theater, as the acclaimed professional ensemble presents the show with the audience of approximately 90 seated on the stage, close up to the actor.

The actor is BTE’s Richie Cannaday, playing a 7-year-old whose mother is seriously ill in the hospital having attempted suicide. To cheer her up, the youngster starts to list each and everything that is brilliant — things that make life worth living. The list includes some things serious, and other things just plain silly.

The “narrator” (which is the only designation) grows to an adult, attends college, falls in love and gets married, while his list of “brilliant things” swells to nearly a million.

Cannaday’s fellow ensemble member and collaborator Eric Wunsch directs “Every Brilliant Thing,” which is a good fit as a smaller-scaled final show in the 2018-19 season that included three far more expensive productions.

This first-person story, which explores the timely topics of depression and suicide, was written by British playwright Duncan Macmillan and comedian Jonny Donahoe. Given the somber tone of these topics, it is a bit surprising that the audience finds so much to chuckle at.

Because the theater is adorned with several Japanese lanterns and many strings of red, green and yellow lights, “Every Brilliant Thing,” with a running time of approximately 80 minutes (with no intermission), is highly unconventional theater fare as it is both a solo as well as an interactive performance.

Audience members (myself included), who volunteer or are drafted shout out their own “brilliant thing” from printed cue cards, while the narrator enlists others to act out minor roles, including his father who drives him to the hospital, a sympathetic school counselor, a veterinarian who puts down his dog, and the girl that he marries.

It is apparent from attending a preview performance that the impact of the narrator’s “conversation” may vary considerably, depending upon certain audience members’ willingness and ability to credibly “stand in” for the people in his life.

Cannaday is always affable, quickly disarming and bonding with the audience. His poise and natural ad libbing skills add to his easy-going empathy.

In a pre-opening interview, Cannaday said that he is closely affected by this play, acknowledging that his own mother attempted to harm herself in his presence. With three-sided seating and the audience only a few feet away, he is able to look into their eyes, and therefore can more readily relate how everyone’s behavior is affected by their peers.

“Every Brilliant Thing” has the narrator’s emphatic message for those thinking about ending their life — “don’t do it!” But more than that, it offers a conversation that is simultaneously witty and poignant.

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble probably never has had a play which calls for such interactions with the audience. “Every Brilliant Thing” is therefore not only entertaining and informative to all, but may even be inspiring to some.

BTE rates this show as “MA” for mature language and situations.

For tickets, call 570-784-8181.