reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Playwright Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing, which opened this week on IRT’s UpperStage and is directed by Tim Ocel, is such an original, unique, and inspired piece of theatre – it came as a bit of a surprise. It tells the story of one man’s life with a severely depressed mother whose failed attempts at suicide provoke him to start, at age six, a list of every brilliant thing about being alive – such as 1. ice cream, 2. Kung Fu movies, 3. burning things, 4. laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose, 5. things with stripes. The first short list is left on the mom’s pillow and returned to him – with spelling corrections. So begins a life changing list – added to through high school and college and marriage and more suicide attempts…

The play is presented as a sort of interactive monologue – using a good number of audience members, either as list-item readers, or as actual characters in the story – the father, a veterinarian, a counselor, a professor, a love-interest. This aspect must make the production totally different for each performance – though our particular assemblage worked quite well, with notable performances by the volunteers. The glue for this innovative approach (the central character – the nameless Man) is played by the very likeable Marcus Truschinski, an actor we have enjoyed seeing here in The Mystery of Irma Vep, and The Hound of the Baskervilles, who does an amazing job holding it all together through the variety of audience offerings.

Marcus Truschinski in IRT’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing”

The play strives to teach us that 1. life is worth living, 2. you need to pay attention to all things – good and bad, and 3. (a plainly spoken idea) if you ever feel that you want to kill yourself – don’t.

While the Man’s story is, in itself, engaging, its inventive structure – for me – proved to have a shortfall. The power of the message – the Man’s plea to his mother (and to himself) to realize what a wonderful world we live in – gets somehow lost at times within the distractions of the volunteer audience members’ participation. Goofs are laughed at, clever comebacks are availed, dear moments are broken into and shattered. Granted, these are my own sensibilities at work here, but I found the result to be: an important message which could have been so much more powerfully conveyed. I get the outreach idea for including the ticket holders, and I get the use of lightness rather than heavy-handedness – especially with such an important life preserving theme. I guess I am just more traditional minded in what I think works best.

Marcus Truschinski and audience member Ron Gifford in IRT’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing”

This is not to say that I did not enjoy the play. On the contrary, it’s innovative concept alone was a fine experience. Truschinski’s performance was certainly top-notch – well deserving of the ovation he received, and the humorous moments – both as written and as discovered in the audience’s participation – were most enjoyable. Indeed, I highly recommend that as many of you who can – go see this imaginative show, and see what you think for yourself.

Every Brilliant Thing will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through February 10th. For specific information on dates, show times, and ticket orders, visit IRT’s website at

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing