Actors Theatre of Louisville’s “Every Brilliant Thing” tackles tragedy with poise
By Gracie Vanover | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter
Indiana University Southeast, junior
“The list began after her first attempt. A list of everything brilliant about the world. Everything is worth living for,” said our narrator, Jon Norman Schneider, to start the show, describing what he created for his mother to feel like life was worth living.
Jon Norman Schneider as the storyteller in Actors Theatre of Louisville's “Every Brilliant Thing” by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe. Photo by Denisha McCauley-Young. Courtesy Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Schneider is our storyteller in “Every Brilliant Thing,” written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, opened Wednesday at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Here, he is just seven years old — a time when the good things in life are simple:
1. Ice cream.
2. Water fights.
3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
4. The color yellow.
And it continues.
In “Every Brilliant Thing” our storyteller takes the audience through his life journey and coping with his mother’s ongoing depression and attempts to take her own life.
In an effort to make his mother happy, our young narrator keeps adding to the list, leaving it time and time again for his mother to read. Through childhood, college, and even marriage, the list continues getting larger than imagined.
This charming solo performance has so much character, especially with the audience being characters themselves. Schneider coaches audience members to perform parts of the list or even play minor characters in the life of the storyteller.
From roles like our narrator’s dad to a college lecturer, audience members have to be on their toes in order to improv back and forth with our storyteller. Schneider himself was very quick on his feet when it came to reacting to his audience picks.
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As an improvised character, theatergoers must also help Schneider move the story along, giving it comedic moments or even uncomfortable silence. The interactiveness of the show brought smiles that you could even see with masks on.
Throughout the show our storyteller also shows us his vulnerable side as he tries to make sense of his mother’s sadness. He wonders how someone could be so sad with all of these wonderful things around.
Jon Norman Schneider as the storyteller in Actors Theatre of Louisville's “Every Brilliant Thing." Photo by Denisha McCauley-Young. Courtesy Actors Theatre of Louisville.
With a central theme of mental illness, our main character faces challenges related not only to his mother’s mental health but to his own. Listening to his mother’s highs and lows depicted, you feel the anger from our narrator as he deals with his own internal quarrels of unhappiness.
While the staging in this show is minimal, it fits the show perfectly. It isn’t about the set or what our storyteller wears, but rather what he feels and how he copes with his mother’s ongoing depression.
Overall, this show is a heartwarming and heartbreaking take on some of the effects of depression and suicide. “Every Brilliant Thing” is directed by Amelia Acosta Powell and runs through Feb. 20 in Actors' Theatre’s Bingham Theatre.
Gracie Vanover, an active Arts Bureau Edge reporter since 2018, is a junior and journalism major at Indiana University Southeast where she is editor-in-chief of The Horizon newspaper. The Horizon also published this review as part of Arts Bureau Edge's collaborative journalism practice.