Hamilton theatre maker Luke Brown first saw Every Brilliant Thing at Canadian Stage in Toronto when it ran in late 2018. He didn’t know much about the play, but caught it on the recommendation of a friend. His reaction? “I was floored. How can a topic so dark and heavy be in such an uplifting piece?”
Brown, along with colleague Stephanie Hope Lawlor, were moved to stage their own version in Hamilton under their respective Diversion Entertainment and Rook’s Theatre banners. Previously, they’ve worked on two successful runs of Mary’s Wedding. Brown directs this new production which opens March 14 at The Infinity Forge, while Lawlor is its sole performer.
Stephanie Lawlor had also come upon the play on the advice of a friend, reading it and then viewing a performance broadcast by HBO. “It had been a long time since a play had moved me quite in that way,” she explains. “It’s so innovative and warm and creative. We were hoping to collaborate on another project, and when we talked about Every Brilliant Thing it checked so many of the boxes: it moved us, it felt exciting, and it terrified the hell out of us.”
The 2013 play was written by English playwright Duncan MacMillan and Dublin–born comedian Jonny Donahoe; Donahoe was the performer when Every Brilliant Thing had a successful outing at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which led to a four–month run off–Broadway and a number of years being toured around the world.
With humour and pathos, the play tells the story of a kid whose mother is hospitalized because of mental illness. Faced with the reality of a deeply depressed and suicidal parent, the child attempts to cope by beginning a list of “
Everything that’s brilliant about the world. Everything that’s worth living for.” It’s a list that includes ‘#2. Water fights,’ ‘#5. Things with stripes,’ and ‘#7’...the child herself.
For a play that has a content warning for its mental health themes, Every Brilliant Thing has been given some pretty remarkable descriptors by reviewers. The Toronto Star said the play was ‘life–affirming’ and ‘wholesome,’ while NOW Magazine termed it ‘engaging’ and ‘empathetic.’ Mooney on Theatre called it ‘a delight’. “It’s uplifting and a comedy, but it doesn’t shy away from honesty,” Lawlor says. “I think that’s what appeals to me so much.”
Part of Luke Brown’s admiration comes from the construction of the play, from its text to “how the authors play with form. It’s a seamless blend of storytelling, theatre, comedy and improv. It’s a unique way of telling a story that I hadn’t encountered before.”
But he also has a personal, painful inspiration for his appreciation of Every Brilliant Thing: “In 2009, I received a phone call that my cousin Alex had passed away,” Luke says. “I was devastated that he was gone but on a quiet, shameful level, I understood. I understood completely how you can feel so crushingly low that any alternative, even ending your own life, could be preferable to another day of feeling that way. It was this dark secret that I carried around and, evidently, he did, too.”
“I miss my cousin every day. There’s a giant Alex sized hole in the world where he should be. Doing this show is my way of celebrating him and reminding others that things do get better.
Beyond that, the draw for them working on this project together started with great friendship, and continues with professional and creative compatibility. “Artistically, we both have similar goals and tastes which has led to an incredibly satisfying creative collaboration,” Luke explains. Stephanie concurs, saying, “We speak the same language, which is so valuable as creatives. As producers, we have complementary skill sets.”
After this production, Luke Brown has a half dozen audio dramas he wants to record of ‘weird historical events.’ Then comes work with another favourite collaborator, magician/illusionist Nick Wallace (a contestant on last season’s America’s Got Talent). Wallace has a new show premiering at the 2020 Hamilton Fringe, and then Brown and Wallace will tour an existing show, Strange and Unusual, to several cities this autumn.
Next up for Stephanie Hope Lawlor is the Theatre Aquarius Indie Festival, coming up May 25th through June 7th, when she’ll direct Pantheon Productions’ We All Got Lost, which won ‘Best of Fringe’ in its premiere run at the 2019 Hamilton Fringe Festival.
Meantime, Lawlor and Brown describe the deliberation that went into finding just the right venue to mount Every Brilliant Thing. It’s being held outside the downtown geography of most Hamilton theatre. They purposefully bypassed more traditional spaces with a typical ‘performer/audience divide’ or theatrical lighting and seating in favour of the ‘warm’ and ‘welcoming’ Infinity Forge near Gage Park. They feel it’s the perfect place to stage a play Lawlor calls ‘intensely personal’ and ‘completely unique’. “[Every Brilliant Thing] is so well–crafted. The character’s journey is specific to them, but the writing of it leaves so much room for people to see themselves in it.”
“Everybody has been touched by mental health struggles or suicide, whether directly or indirectly,” she said. “This play reminds you that things get better. ‘They might not always get brilliant, but they get better.’” V
EVERY BRILLIANT THING
March 14 - 28, 8 PM
The Infinity Forge
468 Cumberland Ave, Hamilton
Tickets: $30, general seating
Buy online or at the door: www.eventbrite.ca
75 minutes (no intermission)