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Cleveland Play House’s ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is a show of purpose

Let us suppose for a minute that you are seven years old. You have tasked yourself with making a list “of everyday delights that give us a reason to live.” The reason for this list is an attempt to break through your mother’s clouded mind of depression in an effort to awaken her to the many wonderful things that life has to offer. This is after her first attempt at suicide.

This is the gist of Cleveland Play House’s production of Every Brilliant Thing now on stage in the Helen Theatre at Playhouse Square. Depending on which show you see, either Tarah Flanagan or Alex Brightwell take you on a life journey from age seven into middle age.

As you are ushered to the seats surrounding the arena style stage you are approached by one of the two actors who either give you a slip of paper with writing on it or ask you to be an active participant in the play. During the Saturday performance we had actor Alex Brightwell as our guide.

He begins with telling about his first awareness of death when his best friend Sherlock Bones was put down by their family friend and vet (played by an audience member). Soon after that he is taken to the hospital where his mother is recovering from her first suicide attempt but who refuses to see her son. He is left in the lobby to be entertained by an elderly couple who give him a granola bar and a bottle of water.

The situation leaves the young boy confused thus the idea of compiling a list is born. What begins as a list of one hundred everyday delights grows as each self imposed goal is reached reaching into the thousands and later in life to one million and more. Ice Cream...Being Allowed To Stay Up Past Your Bedtime To Watch TV...Water Fights...all make the early part of the list but as it grows the entries begin to get more sophisticated.

Audience members are drafted to play pivotal roles in the young man’s life including his father who does not know how to communicate to his son what is happening in their lives, a school counselor who talks to him using a sock puppet dog named “Fluffy” and his college sweetheart and later wife. This is about as immersive as theater can get.

Alex does a terrific job in not only portraying his many ages but also in recruiting and coaching on the spot the various audience members for their roles. It is a story of dealing with inner demons whose subtle influence governs how a person thinks and acts. It also illustrates the fact that suicide is a selfish act that robs the surviving friends and families by making them wonder what part they played and what they could have done to help. It is the ultimate blame game.

It little matters which actor you see portraying the main character in the show as both are tremendously talented. The play is thoughtfully drawn out by playwright Duncan Macmillan and although a mere 90 minutes without intermission is still a wonderful theatrical experience to behold. Props to stage manager Maryann Morris and sound designer Nick Drashner who make cameo appearances during the show. The show is gently directed by Laura Kepley.

Mental health issues seem to peak especially during the holiday season thus the timeliness of this show is apt as we are bombarded with holly jolly Christmas cheer whether we want it or not. It is a show of hope that gently reminds us of every brilliant thing that gives us reason to live.

Every Brilliant Thing runs through December 22, 2019 in the Helen Theatre at Playhouse Square. For tickets and information go to or call (216) 241-6000.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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