“Every Brilliant Thing”

at SLO Repertory Theatre
through April 10, 2022

This one-man show manages to have the feel of a larger play, encompassing everything from depression and suicide to love, laughter and redemption, sweeping the viewer into its wide arms for a life-affirming hug. I know that sounds a bit grandiose, but it’s truly the play you need to see right now, maybe just the brilliant thing you need to help shake off pandemic doldrums and restore your faith in the resilience of humans. Performed with aplomb and charm by SLO Rep’s artistic director Kevin Harris, the 70-minute show warms the heart long after lights are up.

Kevin Harris in Every Brilliant Thing

The script by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe follows the growing-up travails of a young boy whose chronically-depressed mother attempts suicide. Trying to cope with this inexplicable turn of events, the boy invents a list of all the wonderful things he can think of that make life worth living, including such random delights as roller coasters and popcorn. As the list grows, the boy is convinced his mother will of course be persuaded to see the joys of life and stop being sad. As adults, we all know it isn’t that simple– but the list is indeed a sweet and often amusing reminder of things small and large that make us smile.

The rest of the tale is for you to discover– the boy matures, we learn more of his story, his experiences with his family, his love life, and so forth– and the waxing and waning of the list and its significance over time, with a generous dash of humor. Audience members are enlisted to help chronicle the list and even occasionally play characters in the narrative, but don’t be scared off– no one participates against their will, and the addition of varied voices in the fabric of the performance adds a certain communal feeling. The overall effect generates a genuine aura of tenderness and hope, a soft compassionate regard for the vagaries of existence.

The bare stage is surrounded by audience on all sides, which means Harris moves around quite a bit to avoid having his back to anyone for long. It also draws the audience in, quite cozily, so we can see others’ faces and reactions. Director Suzy Newman keeps the pace crisp and highlights the heart in the piece. Sound design, also by Harris, is almost another character in the show, adding an indelible element.

The production at SLO Rep is definitely worth seeing, perhaps even more than once. Give yourself a respite from bad news and enjoy something uplifting.

— Jeanie Smith

San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre
March 25 – April 10, Fridays/Saturdays 7:00pm, Saturdays/Sundays 2:00pm
$20-$36. Call 805-786-2440 or visit
: https://www.slorep.org/