By Daniel Skora
A young boy finds himself having to deal with his mother’s depression and attempted suicide. To cheer her up, he starts a list of things that he hopes will raise her spirits. The list begins from a child’s perspective: ice cream (#1), water fights (#2), staying up late and being allowed to watch television (#3). As the boy grows, the list grows with him and becomes more humorous in the process: kind old people who aren’t weird and don’t smell unusual; the prospect of dressing up as a Mexican wrestler. Eventually, the boy and the list will mature to the point that it will include such brilliant things as Marlon Brando, alcohol, and sex, and just about every other brilliant thing under the sun.
“Every Brilliant Thing” is the title of Tipping Point Theatre’s current presentation. The play is both a case study in depression and a truly unique piece of theatre. It’s a one man show where the audience is an active participant every step of the way. Upon entering the theatre, patrons are given a slip of paper upon which is written one of those brilliant things the boy (and, eventually, the man) has put on his list. At the appropriate time, (brilliant things all have numbers), the audience member shouts their particular brilliant thing for all to hear.
Tipping Point has extended the show’s uniqueness to its casting. James R. Kuhl and Katherine Banks each play the unnamed child on alternating performances. When Ms. Banks plays the role, the child obviously becomes a girl. Kuhl, who played the part the night upon which this review is based, was incredible. Having to deal not only with his lines and play to an audience on his every side, he also had to be prepared for whatever surprises may come from the “amateurs” that are part of the show. For his acting and adlibbing skills, and his ability to handle sensitive materials with grace and humor, Kuhl shows he’s an actor at the height of his craft.
Seating at the Tipping Point has been adjusted for this production to become a theatre in the round. It has no set beyond the two cubes that serve as occasional places to sit.
With this production, Tipping Point is partnering with St. Mary Mercy Livonia in an effort to raise awareness of depression and mental illness. Opening night saw a panel of mental health experts from the hospital answering questions from both the audience and a live Facebook feed. The panel provided information about how family and friends can tell if a person’s in need of help and where resources can be found for those who find themselves so in need.
Occasionally, snippets of songs that influenced the boy’s life find their way into the show (sound design by Sonja Marquis). To most, Kuhl adds his own style of amusing choreography.
“Every Brilliant Thing” may be the most singularly affecting play you will see this year, not only because of the message it contains, but in the way it is presented. Director Angie Kane Ferrante and the entire Tipping Point staff and production crew have crafted a show that breathes with humanity, highlights a too-often neglected need individuals and society have, and is heartwarming and entertaining throughout.
Set and properties design is by Gabriella S. Csapo, lighting by Rachael Nardecchia, and costume design by Katherine Nelson. Stage manager for the production is Tracy L. Spada, assisted by Rebecca Godwin.
The show was created and written by Duncan Mcmillian with Jonny Donahoe. It’s a Michigan Premier and runs through February 25th. Tickets are available online at www.tippingpointtheatre.com or by visiting or calling the theatre’s Box Office at 1.248.347.0003 between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Mon. through Fri. or 90 minutes prior to all performances, based on availability. Tipping Point Theatre is located at 361 E. Cady Street in Northville.
A note about the music: among the snippets of tunes heard in the show, one has been a personal favorite of this reviewer forever. “Drown in My Own Tears” was the boy’s father’s favorite song and appears in the show in the context of a family gathering. The song is an R&B classic, first laid down on a 78 in the early fifties and since covered by a host of recording artists. If you’re not familiar with it, give it a listen on YouTube, where you can find both the Ray Charles version as used in the show, and the equally great, if not better, version by Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers. You will discover a true American blues classic and quite possibly a new favorite song in the process.