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Theatre Review: CATCO’s Charming ‘Every Brilliant Thing’

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theatre Review: CATCO’s Charming ‘Every Brilliant Thing’Photos by Sarah Mills Bacha.
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Every Brilliant Thing is the one-character piece that introduced playwright Duncan MacMillan (written with original star Jonny Donahoe) to the world stage. A rare, charming play with suicide at its heart, the show’s popularity has not abated since the 2014 premiere. Evidence of that love includes an HBO filmed version of the Off-Broadway run and the fact that CATCO’s solid production, directed by Steven C. Anderson, opening this weekend, is the second mounting in Columbus in less than a year.

Every Brilliant Thing follows a young man (Tim Elliott) on a quest to catalog everything that makes life worth living. His list starts in response to his mother’s first suicide attempt and takes on a life of its own, getting easier and more expansive as he falls in love in college and opens it up to outside input, and ebbing as he fights some of the same demons.

The key to Every Brilliant Thing is its paper lantern quality. People illuminate life in general and in the text. Audience members stand for other characters in the protagonist’s life and the (pre-written) list entries, including call-backs to characters introduced early on, like the character’s father and his school counselor. At the Friday night performance I saw, some of the most lump-in-the-throat moments of this play I knew well came from those interactions with the audience.

The other cornerstone holding the play up is its sweet lightness. The general atmosphere of not taking itself too seriously, even with its life and death themes, lets the play summon uplift without being saccharine or cheap. Elliott’s performance struggles with this; the organic flowerings from one mood or moment to the next occasionally seem like parlor-trick quick changes, and he shifts from a perfect scene to one that’s performative and over-the-top. His performance stuns when he finds the right balance, but those moments don’t come as often as they should.

Anderson’s direction effectively uses the in-the-round configuration of the room (at the performance I saw, two of the four seating areas were full) and showcases Elliott’s knack for physical comedy, but gives the impression of rushing through its tight hour-and-ten minute running time. Their Every Brilliant Thing is a fine evening of theatre and gets across what makes this show so beloved, but it never quite soars.

Every Brilliant Thing runs through Feb. 10 with performances at 11 a.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit catco.org/shows/2018-2019/every-brilliant-thing.

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