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Regional Premiere
By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe

Circle Theatre

Director – Harry Parker
Asst. Director – Jacob Oderberg
Stage Manager – Megan Beddingfield
Set Design – Clare Floyd DeVries
Prop Design – Megan Beddingfield
Lighting Design – John Leach
Sound Design – David H.M. Lambert

Zak Reynolds
Various members of audience

Reviewed Performance: 6/16/2018

Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

It's a simple recipe, really. Take an hour of scripted monologue, combine it with free-flowing improvisation, add a dash of audience to play key roles and make the whole audience your ensemble. Then add humor to a heartbreaking story of depression and suicide and top it off with a list of things that make life worth living. Every Brilliant Thing is all this, and more.

Even before the doors opened, Zak Reynolds drifted through the lobby of Circle Theatre in Sundance Square and talked to waiting audience members. For some he placed a small card in their hands. For others, seemingly challenged at random, he had small, but important, role in his story. This is the unique staging effect Every Brilliant Thing has going for it. Written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, it's the kind of show you don't see often. In fact, Circle's production is the Regional Premier. Directed by Harry Parker, it's an effective forum to ask an audience to consider the causes and effects of suicide, again thrust into public discussion with recent deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. But Parker has directed a show that makes discussion of ordinarily morose subjects easy to engage with, even enjoyable, without tramping on the feelings of those who deal with these human conditions.

Zak Reynolds is the only named actor playing a character called Narrator. His monologue directs the plot line and introduces various people in his life. Along the way he engages audience members to play parts, such as Vet, Dad, Sock Dog, Sam, and Mr. Patterson, though it would give away the story to say why these characters are important. What is important is that Reynolds was a master at folding the scripted text into his improvisation with audience and invited characters and this interactive delivery made the unfolding story easy for this audience to embrace.

A young boy grows up in a family where depression and the threat of suicide are normal. Throughout life he struggles with understanding the confusion and heartbreak around him and, at 7-years old, the young boy begins a list of reasons to make life worthwhile in an attempt to persuade his parents to see what he sees. This goes on through his life as he goes to college, finds love and marriage, and struggles with his own form of depression. The list grows and each is a funny, poignant reminder about the tiny, insignificant details of life we take for granted. They are the jewels in our lives. This list reveals how we so easily forget the really great things we experience. So, why do some people want to die? It's a question we can barely fathom and one with few answers, but it affects us in ways we can't imagine, even if we're not directly connected to it.

Every time a famous person ends his life, there's a spike in random suicides. The Narrator tells us this as a reminder of the need to talk about it. The fact is, many of us may have considered the final option at some point, or at least reached a low point when it might appear to be the only option. “If you live a long life and get to the end of it without ever once having felt crushingly depressed, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.”

Reynolds delivered this story with a large dose of humor that made the subject easier to consider, but he did not shy away from the heartbreak and pathos someone intimately affected could feel. He elevated his body to highly energetic movement around the stage and audience while making us see his view and when excitedly hearing his list, read by audience members. But he also dropped into deadly serious stillness when talking about the boy's family and the real consequences and feelings of depression. This sudden arc change in his character kept us on our toes and focused on the subject. What was amazing was the ease with which Reynolds told this story, as if it was a movie unfolding inside his head. He could stay just a bit detached so the audience could process the information without getting caught in a boy's emotional rollercoaster and this removed the normal fear and baggage found in the discussion of suicide.

Staging was minimal, a small wood bench and a couple of wood chairs. Along the back wall hung yard tools, along with items you'd find in a storage shed or garage. Some important prop pieces came from this assortment, such as the vinyl records that underpinned the boys life, books that caused him to question the subject himself, and others. Lighting stayed pretty static through most of the show. There were a lot of music clips called out by the Narrator to set the tone for pieces of his story, a bit of soundtrack for his life.

I love the challenge of an outlier play, one with special challenges to the production team. Harry Parker tied all the disparate parts of this play together seamlessly and directed the pacing to keep the humor flowing while allowing subject to land with impact. From the opening moment everything points to the Director's simple message, "You're not alone, you're not weird, you will get through it, and you've just go to hold on." Sometimes the most complex issues in life have amazingly simple solutions.

Circle Theatre has created an environment where we can again consider the facts of life in an entertaining, memorable way. Every Brilliant Thing opens the door to re-approach and reconsider the issues which are with us, yet only come to the fore with well-known news stories. But it's with us and around us and maybe within us all the time and we need to stay aware, search for the signs, and try to remind ourselves why we keep working through our low points. From #1, ice cream, to palindromes, life is worth living. And this show is worth seeing.

Circle Theatre
Sundance Square
230 West 4th Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76102

Plays through July 14th
Adult language & subject manner
Thursday at 7:30 pm ($25-33)
Friday – Saturday at 8:00 pm ($30-38)
Saturday at 3:00 pm ($25-33)

For information and tickets, visit or call 817.877.3040.