Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Every Brilliant Thing
Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Hold These Truths

Alexander Strain
Photo by Stan Barouh
What are the things that make life worth living? That's the question at the core of Every Brilliant Thing, the affecting one-actor play by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe now in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney Theatre Center in suburban Maryland.

Actor Alexander Strain, guided with subtlety and skill by director Jason Loewith, provides the backbone and substance of the play, but the audience members in the intimate space make each performance a unique experience. Strain chats with the audience before the 65-minute performance, asking some of them to play improvisational roles (in one case, involving a sock puppet) and others to verbalize excerpts from the list of "brilliant things" Strain's character collects beginning at the age of 7.

The premise is that Strain's character grew up with a mother coping with suicidal depression. As a child, after his mother recovered from her first suicide attempt, he decided that he would cheer her up with a handwritten list of one million brilliant things in life. He put the list aside at several points but always took it up again, and he takes the audience on the journey with him.

The sound design by Jane Behre and Ryan Gravett adds measurably to the atmosphere, as the narrator describes the different kinds of music he grew up hearing (mostly jazz artists) and his love for the long-playing record and its liner notes. Paige Hathaway has provided a cocoon-like setting for the drama, using elaborate carpets to delineate the limits of the stage.

In conjunction with this production, Olney is working with the National Association on Mental Illness-Montgomery County and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to promote awareness of suicide and to help survivors (like Strain's character) to understand that they bear no guilt for the actions of those around them.

Olney Theatre Center
Every Brilliant Thing
February 28th - March 25th, 2018
By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Featuring Alexander Strain
Directed by Jason Loewith
Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or