Review: Every Brilliant Thing

Jon Haque in Every Brilliant Thing                                                 Photo by

By Larry Laneer
September 8, 2019

Long-time theatergoers have for many theatrical seasons admired the work of actor Jon Haque. He has performed with about all our leading theater companies. But Haque has been associated mainly with comedic roles. Now, we see him display his full breadth of acting and improvisation skills in Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s production of the one-hander Every Brilliant Thing.

Now at CitySpace, this 2016 play by English playwright Duncan Macmillan “with Jonny Donahoe” (as it’s billed) tells the story of a family tragedy and its effect on the family’s son. A not uncommon human act that may involve the “Werther effect” looms over the storyline. Events inspire the son, who’s seven years old when the play begins, to compile a list of “every brilliant thing” for his mother. The lad adds to the list as he grows into adulthood until it reaches a large number.

It’s s not giving away too much to reveal number one on the list is ice cream. Number 654 is Marlon Brando. Go figure. On instructions from the playwright, the play is localized. The time is the present, and the setting is “a partially furnished attic in Oklahoma City,” and a spacious, uncluttered attic it is.

In less capable hands than those of Haque and director Linda K. Leonard, this play could turn mawkish in the extreme. And to say a play involves tragedy does not mean it lacks humor. Some of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies include some of his sharpest humor.

The play’s conceit is the actor, called “Narrator,” drafts audience members to perform small, albeit important, roles in the production. A few come on stage and improvise lines or speak dialog Haque feeds them. Before the play begins, Haque mingles with audience members in the lobby and hands out numbered cards with words and phrases on them. These are items on the list of “every brilliant thing.”

When Haque says a trigger number during the show, audience members are supposed to call out what’s on the card. The uncertainty of what people will do results in a bit of an edge to the production. The actor works without a net, and it gives the show a part-theater, part-improv feel. Plays are usually rehearsed down to the most minute details, but this show never loses an unsettled feeling. It works pretty well, with both intended and unintended consequences, all in less than 90 minutes without intermission.

Let’s hope City Rep artistic director Donald Jordan has in mind other dramatic roles for Jon Haque in the near future. Twenty or twenty-five years from now, theatergoers will get to see Haque play Willy Loman. Lucky them.

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre
7:30 p.m. Fridays, 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. Sundays, through September 22
CitySpace Theatre, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.