Theater review: ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ by Different Strokes

HE'S MAKING A LIST: Mondy Carter stars in the one-man show (if you don't count audience participation) 'Every Brilliant Thing.' Photo courtesy of Different Strokes

You can be singing joyfully around a piano with your family one day, then contemplating suicide the next. Depression is no laughing matter, except Every Brilliant Thing, by Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe, somehow manages to find the humor. The play is staged by Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective at The BeBe Theatre through Saturday, Aug. 25. (This will is the final show by Different Strokes! in The BeBe Theatre as the company is moving to a new space in the near future.)

After his mother attempts suicide, a young British boy (played by Mondy Carter) feels powerless. So, he leaves handwritten notes around the house for his mother to find. This forms a “brilliant things” list that follows him throughout his life as he becomes a man battling similar mental demons. The list ranges from simple things like “ice cream” and evolves to more intricate ideas like “burning things” or “the fact that sometimes there is a perfect song to match how you’re feeling.”

Carter gives himself over to this intriguing one-man show. He really puts himself through a workout. But, as written, the play feels too short to be fully absorbing (it clocks in at just over an hour). With Carter’s rapid pace, we often lose large chunks of emotion in the story, and this emotion is what grounds us with the subject.

However — and most importantly — it is not boring, and Carter’s comedic portrayal is arresting to those looking for a laugh. The character is a very demanding one because the actor must keep track of the numerical list of brilliant things. Before the play technically starts, a hodgepodge of these notes are passed out from a basket. When Carter calls a particular number, the corresponding audience member must read the note aloud, taking part in the play.

So, perhaps calling this a one-man show is not exactly correct as Carter pulls several random onlookers into the play. The best of these is the character of Alex, his girlfriend. The woman selected from the audience to play this part on opening night was quite good and left a perfect impression on the audience: With her and Carter’s differences, we could see how they fell in love and how their relationship might have fallen apart. But the randomness of the gimmick is more the point.

And the gimmick works well. As audience members, we remain on alert, wondering if we are to be chosen for the stage with absolutely no preparation. It is so much fun that other role-playing characters would have been welcome. But then, unfortunately, the play’s story ends abruptly with no payoff.

A cute addition is an activity, when departing the theater, where everyone must write their own brilliant thing down on a Post-It note. It is then hung for the next audience to see. This is a great reminder to look at the positive things in life, no matter how small they might be.

WHAT: Every Brilliant Thing
WHERE: BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St., differentstrokespac.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Aug. 25. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. $15-18

 

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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