Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Reflections by GVPTA blogger Keara Barnes
Making a list of every brilliant thing in the world might just make Jonny’s mother happy enough that she won’t attempt suicide. Again. After all, who could possibly want to die after thinking about ice cream or the smell of old books?
Jonny Donahoe stars in this one man show, though much of the time, it feels like an ensemble piece. Situated in a theatre in the round setting, Jonny routinely draws in audience members to portray various characters in the play. It is an affecting and engaging method that helps bring his tale to life, allowing us to partake in his story and immerse ourselves in his journey.
From an anxiety-ridden childhood that revolved around his mother’s emotional highs and lows, to adulthood and marriage, divorce and depression, Jonny’s list of every brilliant thing remains the one constant in his life. Ever present and constantly evolving, it reaffirms hope in life and belief in happiness. Slowly, the list morphs into a representation of Jonny’s own mindset. It stalls. It becomes unaffecting, frustrating even, a painful reminder that so much of life is out of one’s control, that ultimately life will get you down, so why bother fighting?
The play brings the question of happiness to the forefront: is happiness a state of mind you can actively work towards? In a time where mental illness is at the centre of the human collective, a time where it is encouraged to be discussed, accepted, and helped, the play accomplishes a sense of relevance, tragedy, and, ultimately hope. After all, as Donahue says himself, all humans need hope. Perhaps we should all make our own list.
Every Brilliant Thing is running as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, until January 29, 2017. Information and tickets are through pushfestival.ca
Photo: Phoebe Cheong