In Play Reviews

Isaac Lamb has his work cut out for him. He’s the Performer in Every Brilliant Thing (by Duncan Macmillan with Johnny Donahoe), a play about suicidal depression that manages to be at once hilarious and real without sugar-coating anything. It’s onstage in the Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage through November 5.

Directed by Rose Riordan, the play is about a young man in various stages of his life–as a seven-year-old boy, a kid in middle school, college student, and a young adult–whose purpose involves figuring out ways to keep his depressed mother from wanting to leave the world. Starting with his mom’s first stay in the hospital, when he’s seven, the boy starts making lists of reasons she should want to live–brilliant things from everyday life. As the play goes on, the list becomes seemingly endless

Lamb’s engaging performance about sober truths gains balance and depth with some help from friends. Audience members fill in the roles of the small boy, Dad, the vet, the school counsellor, the girlfriend, and others. With the actor’s natural charm and easy-going style, this is accomplished gently, beautifully, and believably so that the entire production comes off with empathy, grace, and not a few belly laughs. Audience members rise to the occasion and deliver some brilliant performances of their own.

It’s a refreshing take on the one-man show. At the same time, it pulls the audience closer to the realities of that slippery slope that is suicide. Throughout the show, the script injects facts about suicide, including that of the Werther Effect, that suggests suicides spike–“Suicide is contagious”–after a suicide is publicized. Every Brilliant Thing was written by a playwright who absolutely understands clinical depression and other mental illness and knows there are no easy solutions.

Help is available, and both the play and the PCS organization make information readily available. It’s program is filled with information on suicide prevention resources.  In addition, this weekend–October 7–in a nod to its season-opening plays, Portland Center Stage sponsors the Out of the Darkness  Annual Walk to Fight Suicide. 

Photo of Isaac Lamb by Patrick Weishempel, Blankeye TV.

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