Depression not only affects people who suffer from it, but their family members too. Trying to help, understand and come to terms with family members that have this mental illness can impact them for their entire life. The one person show, “Every Brilliant Thing,” written by Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe in 2015, directed by Eva Tenuto and starring Terri Weagant as “The Narrator,” is about the Narrator learning to cope with her mother’s mental illness throughout the course of her life. “Every Brilliant Thing” is playing at the Denizen Theatre until April 28, and will be performed Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m.
“Every Brilliant Thing” marks Weagant’s debut at the Denizen theatre. She is a Brooklyn-based actress and worked with a wide range of theatre companies including the Asolo Repertory Theatre, Urbanite Theatre and Seattle Shakespeare Company. She has also performed in Canada, Australia and the Czech Republic. Tenuto is also based in New York City as a director, having been the director and founder of The Women’s Experimental Theater for nearly a decade. She founded the TMI Project as well, which lets people share their own life experiences honestly and openly for others.
Tenuto had the opportunity to direct this show at the Denizen through her relationship with Denizen founder Harry Lipstein and his wife, Wendy. “I met [them] through my work at TMI Project. We immediately bonded over our shared love of theater and storytelling,” Tenuto said.
“As soon as I read the script I knew I wanted to direct ‘Every Brilliant Thing.’ It is so well-written and I had never read a solo script quite like it,” Tenuto said. “It manages to address mental health issues and suicide and yet keeps the audience fully present and engaged by using humor and connection throughout.”
“Every Brilliant Thing” follows the story of our unnamed narrator, talking about her life and what she did in response to a suicide attempt by her mother when she was seven. She created a list of things that inspire happiness titled “Every Brilliant Thing” and continually updates it over the course of her life. We see the Narrator go from childhood, to adolescence, to finally adulthood over the course of the play, showing us her highest and lowest moments. Weagant displays incredible range as an actress. We see her capture childhood wonder, moody teenage angst and adulthood uncertainty over the seventy minutes of the play.
A unique aspect of the play is its incredible interactivity with the audience. Pieces of paper with items on the list are passed out to the audience and art are read at specific points of the play, as well as having audience members act out as people from her life. Weagant displays an incredible amount of chemistry with these drafted actors, making sure to keep them as comfortable as possible as she bounces off their improvised dialogue with her own. A big part of the play is the humor that not only comes from the Narrator’s witty dialogue but also the interactions with the audience members. Weagant describes the play as a unique experience every time she performs it.
“It’s so fun, because the audience offers up different things,” Weagant explained. “Last night, it’s never happened before, but ‘Sam’ [he] had the keys and he just pulled out the keys! And I was like ‘what do I do with this’ and I was trying to think of a funny line about a car or something, but it was a key ring so I just put it on my hand.” For this scene, ‘Sam’ was the Narrator’s college boyfriend who was proposing to her.
“There are little monologue bits that are written in saying ‘If a person does this, then maybe move somewhere in this direction,’” Weagant continued. “And last night was the first night that I didn’t have to do the specific monologue because someone didn’t laugh in a specific spot that they normally do or have in the past. It was really fun [and] feels like a new a different show every day.”
In addition, Weagant’s performance was absolutely electric. She delivered the Narrator’s story as if it was her own, adding an incredible amount of depth to a character that can essentially be played by anyone. She infuses life, energy and humanity into the role where you feel like you truly know the person by the end of the story. Many of us can relate to the situation of having a relative that is dealing with some kind of mental illness and learning how to cope with it.
The relationship she had with her mother is the cornerstone of the play, with her trying to understand her mother’s depression as she grows as a person. She initially sees her list as a way to save her mother, but then realizes that simply wasn’t realistic. The Narrator makes frequent references to the chemical imbalances that depression causes, and how the media perceives and reports on depression and suicide.
Weagant believes tackling these subjects through the play opens an important dialogue about them.
“It is a really hard thing to talk about, and in order to process through the feelings and emotions surrounding it, we have to talk about it. And that’s what I love about this show. I think it’s an open door that allows the conversation to happen and happen in a safe way, so if this show is a catalyst for people to have further discussions in their own healing process or helping others that they know that have gone through this and seeing their journey in a different light, I will consider that a huge success.” Weagant said.
Not only does “Every Brilliant Thing” manage to deliver an important message about mental health through great humor, Tenuto’s direction and Weagant’s acting takes the one-person play to new heights.
The next play at Denizen Theatre is titled “Companion Piece” by Kevin Armento and will be running from June 5 to June 30. The play will tackle the subject of online dating and what it means to form human connections.