• Nate Adams

Review: In these trying times Croswell's 'Every Brilliant Thing' brings smiles and laughter


Courtesy of The Croswell

With the recent announcement that Broadway is going dark until 2021 and many local and regional theaters facing the music that doors could remain shuttered for that long, it’s forcing everyone to adapt, which is exactly what The Croswell is doing with their new production “Every Brilliant Thing” – a one women show that’s both endearing and comical. The production was originally slated to go up in April, but like everything else in the world, the show was put on hold.

And The Croswell, as well as director John MacNaughton, have come up with a unique way to bring this lovely program to audiences. Following local and state ordinances regarding social distancing and mask wearing, “Every Brilliant Thing” is happening outdoors underneath a pavilion across the street, a detour from the usual, cozy, setting of inside the historic opera house.


But it’s a testament to Leah Fox – who plays the narrator of the show – and MacNaughton for still turning in an engrossing, one of a kind, performance when so many distractions (weather, bozos with loud motorcycles, traffic etc) can easily disrupt the flow of the show. In fact, at one point, Fox briefly stopped the show to allow a loud car with a huge American flag sticking out the back to fly by: “Please give us a moment to allow this really patriotic car to pass” she said, gleefully, in character. I was amazed at Fox’s intense focus and dedication. Not only does she have to carry this show on her own, but to contend with forces outside her control and to improvise on the spot proves “Every Brilliant Thing” is a different beast altogether.

And the show itself, penned by Duncan Macmillan and Johnny Donahoe, is also, well, brilliant.

An interactive performance that initiates conversations around tough and serious subjects (notably suicide) while also making you laugh uncontrollably, “Every Brilliant Thing” can be described in one sentence: A seven-year-old tries to make her mother happy by curating a list of wonderful thing that remind her of the joys of living and their time together.

It’s a show that deserves to be discussed, now more than ever, especially during these tumultuous times of uncertainty. Conversations around mental health are soaring as millions of folks are stuck at home, a setting that could be very dangerous, but this production and Fox’s outstanding performance reminds us that we should all chase after one thing: happiness.

While Fox is the bread and butter, there is some level of audience participation needed to help the script gel. Prior to showtime, audience members, including me, were handed a piece of paper with numbers and sayings on them: “The prospect of dressing up as a Mexican wrestler” was on mine. At first, for someone relatively new to the show, you wonder how this would be implemented, but as Fox’s narrator begins shouting out these numbers, it becomes clearer. This is the curated list of brilliant things.

The narrator also plucks random patrons from the crowd to fill in as a series of characters they’ve encountered throughout life. I’m sure some folks weren’t expecting to become a veterinary, a school counselor, or even, the narrator’s dad, but it was refreshing to see people giggling, smiling, and embracing the show, a privilege long forgotten in this pandemic infused world.

Fox has worn many hats in the theatre world over the course of her career and the poignancy and nuance presented here suggests some of her finest work. But unlike most productions, when you’re generally on stage with others who can, essentially, bail you out if a line is dropped or an entrance is missed, Fox must shoulder this nearly 90-minute show all on her own. No backups, no do-overs, no bailouts. And she makes it look effortless, especially with the unpredictability of performing outside and maintaining the show’s interactive element while staying at a safe, “Covid-friendly,” distance.

Other elements of the normal stage production must adapt to its surroundings as well, Jen Letherer’s scenic and lighting design, while minimal, proves effective. Same for Chris Gooseman’s sound design who plants a handful of speakers around the pavilion to enhance the mood. This is a staged production through and through, it just looks different under the proverbial “new normal.”

If “Every Brilliant Thing” sets the bar for how other regional theaters press forward with their shows, it puts forth a great example of how to give audiences the arts in a safe and controlled environments. Then again, seeing anything live right now is rejuvenating. When Fox stepped on stage and began the production, I had to collect myself because it was hard to believe someone was doing theatre.

So if you’ve been looking to scratch that theatre itch, and want to see something beautiful, funny, and emotional, the wholesome “Every Brilliant Thing” at The Croswell more than fits the bill.

EVERY BRILLIANT THING continues through August 2nd at The Croswell Opera House. For more information on ticket sales, performances, and safety measures, please visit Croswell.org.