When’s the last time you felt that stupidly happy, twirling on a hill, singing in the shower with a shampoo-bottle microphone, kind of joy? For me, it was during Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing at Windy City Playhouse. Touted by many as one of this year’s best productions, I’ll lend my voice to its uproarious praise: this one-of-a-kind show is a joyous experience that unites strangers, makes each audience member feel valued, and inspires a wonderful sense of hope.
It’s quite a feat for any play, but even more so for an interactive, one-woman show with a sensitive subject matter. Our Narrator (Rebecca Spence) guides the story, reflecting on her life and exploring how her mother’s suicide attempts, the first of which happened when the Narrator was just seven years old, shaped her. Her recollections begin just after that first attempt, when she decided to craft a list of all the brilliant things in the world to share with her clinically depressed mother. Though the list begins with simple childhood staples like “ice cream,” it evolves as time passes, as do her understandings of depression and suicide.
As Narrator, Spence is naturalistic and engaging, making it easy to forget that the words aren’t truly her own (the original work, in fact, was performed by its author Macmillan, but the transition from a male narrator to a female one is made seamless here). She brings, sometimes literally, the audience into the show, welcoming us into her joy, her sorrow, and everything in between. It’s a tremendously vulnerable performance, and Spence makes it look effortless.
Finding happiness is a complex process for many, and Every Brilliant Thing does not shy away from exploring these complications or diving deep into its subject matter. But at its core, the play challenges and invites us to work toward healthy states of mind by finding joy, even if its only in the little things. Transformative experiences are rare; don’t miss this one. (Emily Schmidt)
Highly Recommended ★★★★
Every Brilliant Thing is playing through Dec. 8 at Windy City Playhouse South. Info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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