Review: “Every Brilliant Thing” in Santa Rosa

It may seem odd that a play that opens with a boy having his dog put to sleep turns out to be such a life affirming piece, but that’s just one of the quirks of Every Brilliant Thing, running now at Left Edge Theatre at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts through December 9.   

It’s a one-man show (sorta) featuring Ron Severdia, who will greet you before the show begins and ask if he may impose on you for your assistance by taking a numbered slip of paper or two and reading the words on them out loud when their numbers are called. They have things written on them like “ice cream”, “the color yellow”, and “roller coasters”.

Ron Severdia

These are items on a list started by a young boy after his mother attempted to end her life. The boy thought if he could show her ‘every brilliant thing’ that makes life worth living, she might feel better about her own.

And so, we follow the boy through adolescence, grammar school, college, and adulthood, and we meet people in his life like his father, a school counselor, and his first girlfriend. All the while, the list keeps growing – “Kung Fu Movies”, “’the way Ray Charles sings ‘You’” – and we soon start to realize that the list is as much for the boy as it is for his mother. Even more than that, the list is for us.

The show has been described as “immersive storytelling”. I think a better description for this Argo Thompson-directed piece would be “inclusive theatre”. It’s done in the round, with no real set, minimal props, and with the house lights up. You are constantly aware of everyone’s presence. Beyond the regular utterances of items on the list, audience members are asked to assist in other “roles”, be it as stand-ins for a synthesizer’s “legs” or as a father giving a toast at his son’s wedding.  What might seem awkward or uncomfortable to some actually led to the evening’s most poignant moments. While it’s certainly true that every show needs an audience, this show really needs an audience.

“If you live a long life and get to the end of it without once feeling crushingly depressed, then you probably haven’t been paying attention”, says the man at one point. Every Brilliant Thing is an unflinching look at the condition and the ability to withstand it, told with a surprising amount of good humor and gentle sweetness. Severdia is the perfect actor for this show, with his teddy bear-like persona immediately putting the audience at ease and open to his entreaties.  

Attending a show about depression and suicide would not seem like the most “holiday” thing to do right now, but trust me when I tell you that by the end of the show’s 75 minutes (yes, it’s a short one), you’ll feel a whole helluva lot better about life than you did crashing through the Best Buy doors on Black Friday.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★

‘Every Brilliant Thing’ runs through December 9 at Left Edge Theatre. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Fri. & Sat, 8pm; Sun., 2pm. $25–$40. 707.546.3600.

Photos by Katie Kelly

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