While I was not familiar with the work, and attended expecting a "typical" thespian experience, what occurred was a surprisingly engaging and personal examination of depression, suicide and the human condition.
'Every Brilliant Thing," a mold-shattering and singularly brilliant play from playwright Duncan Macmillan (written with Jonny Donahoe, the original intended performer), made its New Mexico premier this week. While I was not familiar with the work, and attended expecting a "typical" thespian experience, what occurred was a surprisingly engaging and personal examination of depression, suicide and the human condition.
If the subject matter were less personal, not to any particular person, but directly to our shared human experience, it would be easy to focus on the mostly unfamiliar concept of forced, surprise audience involvement, when most came expecting passive entertainment. This dynamic holds true to actor Rita O'Connell's elegant embodiment of both the nameless sole character and her skillful engagement of the audience as observer, chorus and cast. Her ability to drag the room back and forth through the play's blend of uplifting, humorous joy and soul-wrenching despair was inspiring to the point of confusion.
Her embodiment of the play's spirit quickly overshadowed and overcame the fact that most of the audience had not come expecting a seating plan surrounding the stage, their own participation in the theatrics or the profound effect personally identifying with the heavy subject matter. It was as if the fourth wall was never even a convention. Were it less skillfully presented, either by the authors or the performer and director, it would be impossible not to focus on the nontraditional format of what is essentially written as an hour-long monologue.
In my varied experiences of theater, I do not recall ever being forced to feel that the playwright absolutely must see a particular actress's interpretation of their work. While I could imagine other actresses carrying the sole character here, it is a stretch to imagine anyone else commanding the room and embodying the authors' spirit as O'Connell did in the performance I observed.
In the past I have been inspired (often by Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller) to read a play after seeing it performed. Often it is rewarding to see a work performed by a different troupe, as I have enjoyed Irvine Welsh's "Trainspotting" several times. After sitting through O'Connell's performance on Feb. 9, I am not interested in seeing "Every Brilliant Thing" a second time, or reading the script. In the future, I may watch the HBO film of Jonny Donahoe doing the play, but only as contrast to the experience I had here in Taos.
As with any successful theater performance, accolades reach beyond the playwright and actors. Chelsea Reidy's directing demonstrates its skillfulness in the cogent manifestation of the character and O'Connell's ability to lead a room of 70 people through an intense and inspiring shared emotional experience not just once, but seemingly on command. Ned Dougherty deserves hefty recognition for finding the play, and imagining it brought to life by O'Connell, as it is now nigh impossible for me to see anyone else doing. Sarah Hart's Ennui Gallery becomes the ideal place to showcase the contemporary cast-audience interaction that germinates a deeper human understanding of the often difficult to discuss subject matter.
The play seems well received in this format and location, and will be performed again Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 23-24), 7:30 p.m., at Ennui Gallery, 134 Bent Street in Taos. Tickets are $15, $12 seniors and students. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (575) 737-8574 for more information.
"Parallax" is a reader-submitted opinion column on arts and entertainment subjects for Tempo magazine. Limit is 750 words. Names will not be withheld. Those wishing to submit a "Parallax" column may email it to email@example.com before Friday noon.
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