Every Brilliant Thing at the Jungle Theater is Dead Brilliant!

Joy Dolo. Photo by Lauren B. Photography

The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis has reopened with a one hour somewhat interactive play written by Duncan Macmillan, with Jonny Donahoe. Now don’t misunderstand me, you will not be influencing the course of the play and this isn’t improv, but there is a bit of flexing that muscle on display. You will be required to read a sentence or a word from a piece of paper when called upon. In a few cases you will be asked to do a little more. For instance, I had to give a speech at a wedding off the top of my head, but nothing more than that in most cases. Every Brilliant Thing is a one actor, one audience play. The actor in the performance I saw was Joy Dolo. She is telling the story of a woman whose mother attempted suicide when she was seven years old. The seven year old’s response to her mother’s wish to die was to make a list of every brilliant thing she could think of that made life worth living to show her Mom. Number one, Ice Cream! We follow this young lady through her life and as she grows, so does her list. It’s a lesson in taking note of all the good things even when we are not feeling well or happy. It’s a simple idea, but it’s a very powerful one. Think if you sat and made a list of Every Brilliant Thing. Not the OK things, but just the brilliant things. What would you do with such a list? What would its power be? I’d take it out when I was feeling overwhelmed, sad, hopeless, and remind myself that there is more to life than this moment, this pain, this struggle.

I like the idea so much that I’m going to start my own list right now. The first thing on my list of brilliant things is Joy Dolo’s performance in Every Brilliant Thing. There simply is no actor more engaging and welcoming with the ability to make you laugh and cry in the space of seconds. She single handedly shepherds a cast of dozens of unrehearsed people to create a unified, coherent story. The audience participation seems like a gimmick at first, there to provide some humor and get people into the swing of things, maybe just to keep them paying attention. But that isn’t it, you don’t need a gimmick to keep people’s attention when Dolo is on stage. And the participation adds more than humor, it build connection at least it did for this blogger. When I toasted my daughter on her wedding night, I thought back to the car rides we’d shared in silence and the times I shut myself away in my den to listen to music rather than help her understand what was happening. I wished her all the happiness and prayed for her forgiveness. Some performers are loud, or wild, or powerful and they scream “look at me!!”. Dolo, doesn’t do that, she invites you in, you look at her, you pay attention to her, not because she is demanding it, but because you really really want to. She is open to the audience in a way that lets you in immediately. While she is coaching the audience through their parts, she never loses her character. As for the rest of the cast it will depend on your audience, I thought the fellow playing the Father was quite good the night I went, considering he didn’t know he’d even been cast.

I have to say that I had sort of read a brief description of the play, saw it’s run time was only an hour, and thought with so many shows finally opening up I’d give this one a miss with the packed schedule. I was urged by another blogger not to miss this show and I’m glad I took her advice. Every Brilliant Thing is not to be missed. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen since the theaters reopened, for me this has been the most rewarding of my post pandemic excursions. The show is directed by Meredith McDonough with the unique tasks of directing two different performers in the same role. Jucoby Johnson actually plays the lead in most performances with Joy Dolo appearing every Thursday of the run. I have not seen Jucoby Johnson’s performance but there is an excellent review here by Cherry and Spoon . The Theater has been transformed from it’s usual configuration into a theatre in the round venue by Scenic and Costume Designer Mina Kinukawa and it really enables Dolo and Johnson to get that engagement with the audience going. It was the right decision for this show, and plays a key part in establishing an all in this together vibe. The other technical aspect that really deserves a shout out is the Sound Design by Montana Johnson. Music is minimal but key, it’s use always important to the story and very effective. I particularly liked being reminded of Daniel Johnston and always good to hear a little Ray Charles.

Every Brilliant Thing runs through November 14th at the Jungle Theater in the Lynlake area near Uptown Minneapolis. For more information about the show and to purchase tickets go to https://www.jungletheater.org.