One-woman show at OpenStage Theatre ponders life’s questions

Every Brilliant Thing, directed for OpenStage Theatre by Sydney Parks Smith, is the kind of experience that leaves you pondering life and whether you’re living it right.

This one-woman play stars Jessica Emerling Crow, and it’s more of an interactive experience than a standard play. Audience members receive papers upon entering and are told we’ll be participating throughout the 70-minute play. Audience members are then seated around three sides of a small, bare square stage in the cozy, intimate space at Debut Theatre.

The audience participation begins at the top of the show, as Crow selects members of the audience to be her father, her teacher and her boyfriend throughout the course of the play. But don’t worry: She mostly feeds you your lines and is excellent at improvisation to keep the momentum and laughter flowing.

The topic is about as heavy as you can get, so probably best to leave the kids at home for this one. Crow confronts the issue of suicide when we learn that her character, at age 7, is riding to the hospital with her father because her mother has “done something stupid.” We then follow Crow’s character throughout high school, college, courtship, marriage, and a couple more of her mother’s suicide attempts.

The list

Upon her mother’s first attempt, our 7-year-old character begins a list of “every brilliant thing” there is in life. Crow elicits the participation of the audience by calling off numbers on that list, which correspond to the papers the audience received upon entering. “1. Ice cream, 2. Water fights, 3. Staying up past your bedtime.” She gives this to her mother in the hopes that it will make her want to live, but her mother says nothing about the list and the disappointment and grief at this realization is palpable.

Crow is spectacular in her role. She effortlessly involves the crowd by moving about the stage and the seats making determined eye contact with each of us. Her interaction with each audience member she chooses to bring on stage is genuine, and easy and her talents at improvisation are beyond impressive.

The impressive script by Duncan Macmillan depicts the simple, yet important pleasures of life often universal to all of us: burning things, coffee, the smell of an old book, and listening to a new song for the first time — and  a lot more. The audience is taken through a journey of a life, ostensibly looking at those simple things but touching on things much weightier along the way.

Crow makes this play what it is: genuine, heartfelt, heavy, sad, uplifting, inspiring, and thoughtful. Indeed, it will leave you wanting to run home and make your own list of every brilliant thing. As Crow’s character says: “If you live a long life and get to the end without ever once having felt crushingly depressed, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.”

Click to view gallery