Cygnet Theatre tackles mental illness — and healing — in ‘Every Brilliant Thing’
Actor Ro Boddie admits to feeling “incredibly intimidated” by the challenges of his first one-man show. In Cygnet Theatre’s “Every Brilliant Thing,” he’ll be tackling comedy, drama and improv, and during the show, he’ll be interacting on the spot with audience members, having little idea of what they’ll say.
But Boddie is undaunted.
“These are the kinds of roles you want,” he said, “the ones that scare the hell out of you and stretch you.”
“Every Brilliant Thing,” which opens Aug. 25, was co-written by Brit Duncan Macmillan, adapted from his own short story, and comedian Jonny Donahoe, who also starred in the show during its Off Broadway run at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York.
The piece, which premiered at the Ludlow Fringe Festival in Britain in 2013 and was also filmed (during the New York run) for HBO, recounts how a boy coping with his mother’s attempted suicide grew into manhood with the specter of mental illness surrounding his family.
The brilliant things are the items on a list he makes — distributed to audience members pre-show — that constitute a reason to not only survive but to live. Members of the audience are called upon to inhabit various figures in the narrator’s life.
“Unlike other one-man shows where the actor is playing multiple roles himself,” Boddie said by phone from his home in North Carolina, “in this play, the audience and I will be playing multiple characters together. What they give is going to be something that is pure and gentle and comes from them — everyday people. It’s going to hopefully bring everybody in the theater together.
“You really can’t prepare for it. You just have to make everyone feel at ease, because I am asking them to step out of their comfort zone a bit.”
Boddie was approached to do the show by Rob Lutfy, Cygnet’s associate artistic director, who previously directed him in “Stupid F***ing Bird” in 2016, and who is directing “Every Brilliant Thing.” That earlier production of Aaron Posner’s play also included aspects of improvisation, but this time, Boddie will be more actively involved with audience members.
“I’ll be in the lobby (before the show starts), talking to people, I’ll be in the audience talking to people. I won’t be waiting backstage for the curtain to raise or for blackout. My goal is that they’ll forget that they’re watching a play and think that I’m still the guy who was talking to them in the lobby.”
Ultimately, Boddie said, “The ‘unpredictable’ is the fun part about it. The more they make me off balance, the better I think the show will be.”
“Every Brilliant Thing,” after all, is a piece about interaction and conversation.
“In order to embrace heavy issues, you have to talk about them,” Boddie said. “You have to be very open and vulnerable and in a healthy environment. I hope that whether people are suffering from something like this (mental illness) or they know somebody who is, they will get a dialogue going about it.
“From there, the healing process begins.”
“Every Brilliant Thing”
When: Previews 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Aug. 23, and 8 p.m. Aug. 24. Opens 8 p.m. Aug. 25. Continues 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursday, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Sept. 16.
Where: Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town
Phone: (619) 337-1525
Coddon is a freelance writer.
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