I’ll let you in on a secret that isn’t really a secret – I like taking my mom to what she calls “sad plays.”
This isn’t on purpose and it isn’t to make her cry, but I think my favorite kinds of shows have the right flavor of humanity in them that draws something out of me on a base level. Maybe I want to see the strong woman let her guard down for just a moment in a dark room filled with strangers. Maybe I knew the story too well and forgot the emotion under it all.
Maybe none of that matters and my mom just wants to give me a hard time after the fifth play in a row I’ve taken her to that makes her mascara run.
Now, why am I telling you this? I promise I’m not over-sharing for fun. Looking to TampaRep today and their upcoming outdoor performances of Every Brilliant Thing this weekend, I can’t help but smile. With a script written by playwright Duncan Macmillan and developed with actor Jonny Donohoe, Every Brilliant Thing is both vibrant and moving in the best of ways. This play takes you on a journey and includes you on the action.
“In Every Brilliant Thing, the Narrator, played by local favorite Ned Averill-Snell, tells the story of his seven-year-old self learning that his mother finds it hard to be happy and has ‘done something stupid.’ So, he begins to make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world. Everything that’s worth living for.”
It’s a show perfectly selected for a time when we may find ourselves afraid to look, see, touch or breathe near one another. Right when the main character brings you to the brink of tears, he makes a sharp turn and you laugh instead. That’s what to expect from this show – a well-choreographed roller coaster of emotions in a tight 60 minutes.
I got in contact with TampaRep’s producing artistic director and the director for this show, Emilia Sargent, to talk about the play before this weekend’s premiere. An important aspect of the show that came up is the timing of it. It’s no secret that the last year and a half has proved difficult, and most importantly, incredibly isolating and filled with grief. The founding artistic director of TampaRep, David C. Frankel passed just before the start of the shutdown, and upholding his vision is Emilia’s primary focus as live theatre begins to exhume itself.
“My vision is for TampaRep to be the thriving regional theatre he envisioned, built on creative excellence and inclusivity, which enhances Tampa as a cultural destination and enriches and reflects our community as an artistic home for all to discover, share, create and experience meaningful stories.” Emilia elaborates, “I believe this vision honors David and will ensure that TampaRep lives on as part of his legacy.”
As a man who helped instill the love of theatre in many as a USF professor, and who cared about the integrity and creativity of the artform wholly and with vigor, I’m positive of TampaRep’s rebound and gleaming future.
Every Brilliant Thing is a show that teaches us that it’s okay to be boisterously child-like and unashamed of it, something I think many of us could learn to do more of. The beauty of the dialogue and the blueprint of this show is how contagious the main character’s wonder and joy is.
It goes without saying, though, that our main character had to learn to embrace this joy in his own way. One of my favorite moments of gleeful annoyance happens between the main character and his father:
“I don’t know”
“Because I don’t know everything.”
The beautiful part of this play is realizing that you may not know everything, but you can discover new things as you go.
If you still aren’t sold on how fun this show is, Ned Averill-Snell may be able to convince you. “If you’re a theatregoer, seeing plays is a beat in the rhythm of your life – until you can’t do it, something is missing.
“I think Every Brilliant Thing is a perfect way to scratch that itch – sweet, funny, short, outdoors and distanced, and free. I think we’re all going to have a rewarding time.”
From a Bay area favorite, you’ve got to take his word for it. I love the humanity that Ned speaks about in his exploration of the Narrator’s role in this piece. “I’ve appeared in five different solo shows, and they’re great, but they’re lonely. I’m fortunate to have handy a terrific director, Emilia Sargent, and wonderful stage manager, Jasmine Arroyo Towle, both of whom I’ve worked with many times and love.”
Not that anyone likes being lonely, especially coming out of the isolation of a pandemic, but I can’t help thinking that has an impact on how he performs the show. With a character who is grappling with his own happiness and the role of people in his life, both the loneliness of a solo performance and the joy of an energetic and new audience each day I’m sure is a lovely place to draw from.
“I can’t think of a more perfect return to in-person entertainment,” Emilia Sargent has stated. “This show deals with serious issues in an honest, heart-warming and hilarious way, and perfectly fulfills TampaRep’s mission to connect our diverse community through meaningful and inspiring shared experiences.
“And this immersive outdoor presentation offers a great way for us all to come together and safely enjoy the magic of live theatre.”
Every Brilliant Thing will be performed outdoors in the paved courtyard space at the Ybor City Museum Stage Park,1818 E. 9th Ave., Tampa, FL 33605. General admission seating will be flexible and socially distant, and will follow CDC recommendations for outdoor gatherings at the time of the performance.
In addition, all of TampaRep’s staff and performers will be fully vaccinated. Seating is provided, and light snacks and refreshments will be available, but guests are welcome to bring their own non-alcoholic food and beverages in non-glass containers.
Seating will begin at 8 pm and performances begin at 8:30 pm. Coming in at an hour’s run time, it’s a wonderful show to end your June night.
Now, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I might just have to bring my mom to this one. “The piece is funny, touching, and uplifting – we could use all of these things as we come back together. Immersive, thought-provoking, heartening, and inspiring, I hope everyone leaves Every Brilliant Thing feeling lighter and more hopeful,” Emilia shares with me.
Tickets are free, but space is limited, and registration is required at tamparep.org/every-brilliant-thing.
Every Brilliant Thing is a life-affirming look at families coping with depression.
If you or someone you care about needs help, you can contact
the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay at crisiscenter.com
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