EVERY BRILLIANT THING Is, Well, Brilliant — Review

Los Angeles

Daniel K. Isaac with an audience member | Photo: Isaak Berliner

Alan Koolik
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September 22, 2023 9:55 AM

The first play of the Geffen Playhouse’s new season, Every Brilliant Thing, written Duncan MacMillan with Johnny Donahoe and starring Daniel K. Isaac, is a theatrical gem that seamlessly blends impactful storytelling with audience interaction, creating an unforgettable and immersive experience. This one-person play masterfully delves into the subject of mental health, striking a perfect balance between humor and sincerity.

Isaac's performance as the central character is marvelous. His ability to connect with the audience and improvise hilariously adds layers of authenticity to the narrative. He effortlessly embodies a child’s mission to compile a list of “brilliant things” to uplift his depressed mother, who is in recovery from a recent suicide attempt. Isaac engages the audience with humor and spontaneity, forging a profound connection that turns spectators into active participants in the story. When theatregoers are called out to play characters as varied as his elementary school counselor, his college girlfriend, and his father, Isaac puts them at ease with his quick wit and earnest warmth. 

Colm Summers’ direction is commendable, particularly in creating an environment that feels like an intimate, comforting blanket fort. The enveloping set design, by Sybil Wickersheimer, not only enhances the performance but also symbolizes the play’s themes of finding solace in life’s simple joys. The audience is transported into a world where laughter and vulnerability coexist, drawing them deeper into the narrative's emotional core. Additionally, each audience member is given a slip with one of the character’s “brilliant things,” to read aloud through the course of the play.  

Daniel K. Isaac with an audience member | Photo: Isaak Berliner

Every Brilliant Thing doesn't merely tell a story; it invites the audience to become a part of it. Isaac's remarkable ability to engage with all attending makes this play a heartfelt and communal experience. The interactive nature of the performance, coupled with the immersive set, fosters a sense of connection, encouraging reflection and empathy in the audience.

In a world where conversations about mental health are more critical than ever, Every Brilliant Thing stands as a beacon of understanding and hope. It highlights the power of human connection and the strength found in the simple, brilliant moments of life. This play is a testament to the transformative power of storytelling and audience engagement, leaving a lasting impression that is both moving and heartwarming.

This production contains discussions of depression and suicide. If you or someone you know is in crisis or thinking about self-harm or suicide, there is help available. Call or text 988 for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Every Brilliant Thing is now in performance at the Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater through October 15. For tickets, click here

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Alan Koolik

Alan is currently a student at UCLA School of Law. Prior to this, he was an analyst for Jujamcyn Theaters and an off-Broadway producer. While an undergraduate at Columbia University, he was on staff for the student newspaper, the Spectator.