‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is about what makes life worth living

Credit: Oakland Theater Project

One of the things that I love about the Oakland Theater Project (OTP) is how they get the most out of them at least. The theater (formerly the Ubuntu Theater Project) consistently presents innovative and striking theater productions on a shoestring budget without professional theater at modest ticket prices.

And Every shining thing is no exception. In fact, this is one of the best in OTP. Written by Duncan Macmillan, with Jonny Donahoe (who first performed it in the UK), this extraordinary solo show is the human, human and sometimes humorous story of how a man grew up with a depressed mother and suicidal. Don’t be afraid of the subject. Directed by Michael Socrates Moran (co-founder and co-artistic director of OTP), this play commemorates the beauty of life in its everyday glory. At the same time, he skillfully and delicately explores the human psyche.

In an outstanding solo performance, William Hodgson (another co-artistic director of OTP) plays the narrator, who, as a 7-year-old boy confronted with his mother’s suicide attempt, begins to make a list of the pleasures of the life. Her heartbreaking idea was to present the list to her mother so that she can find new meaning in life and want to continue living. Number 1 on the 7 year old list is “ice cream”; Number 6 is “the roller coaster”.

The narrator continues to work on the list, bringing it to a million “things” as we follow him through the ups and downs of his adult life. Over time, the repercussions of her mother’s depression continue to affect her.

Some of the items on the list correspond to corresponding numbered post-its which are distributed to the public at the entrance. And when the narrator calls a number, the designated audience member is prompted to call the contents of their note. I had number 45, “The voice of Nina Simone”.

William Hodgson. Credit: Oakland Theater Project

Some audience members may be called onto the stage to perform some minor roles on an impromptu basis during the approximately one hour performance. These include the vet who put the young boy’s dog to sleep, the school psychologist who helped him console him with a sock puppet after his mother attempted suicide, and a speaker on The Sorrows of Young Werther. Don’t be put off by this. First of all, it’s easy, and William Hodgson puts everyone at ease and kindly helps the chosen players in their roles. Second, the theater hall can hold less than 50 people, and the stage floor is not large, so that’s okay anyway.

During the lockdown, my thoughts sometimes turned to what makes most of us continue despite our struggles – are we just wired that way or are we afraid of the unknown? Seeing Every shining thing reminds me that maybe we just keep going because for most of us life is filled with so much love, fun, excitement, and pleasure that it usually makes up for the bad points. I add to see Every shining thing to my personal list.

Every shining thing plays indoors at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through October 31 at the Flax Building, 1501 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland. All participants must show proof of vaccination or a negative test and wear a mask.

Headquarters are socially distanced. General admission tickets are $ 25 to $ 35 (seats assigned on arrival at the theater), priority tickets with reserved seats are $ 50 and all-you-can-eat tickets ($ 10 to $ 20) will be available for each representation. All tickets will be sold online up to two hours before each performance. Tickets are available on the Oakland Theater Project website or by calling 510-646-1126.

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Steven L. Nielsen

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