Front Row Reviewers

Feb 25, 2024 | Reviews

Every Brilliant Thing by Vicariously Staged, Created a Space to Highlight the Joys of Life

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

Review by Rose Allen, Front Row Reviewers

I recently  had the pleasure and privilege to attend Vicariously Staged’s debut production, Every Brilliant Thing–this show impressed me in every way, from the intimate staging at The Hive Collaborative to the inspiring acting by Mari Joy Asiado. The play, written by Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe, is the fictional story of one woman and her list of things that she finds wonderful. We follow this unnamed narrator through her life as the list grows and her problems change. I found this story specifically inspiring as it deals with the tender topics of suicide and depression with thoughtful compassion, allowing the audience to engage with heavy subjects while providing levity and catharsis. This production succeeds at the primary purpose of theatre, which is to bring people together and tell a beautiful story that really means something out in the real world.

The story begins on a heavy note, with the narrator recounting the attempted suicide of her mother when the narrator was only seven years old. We are immediately confronted with this difficult topic, which sets the tone for much of the play. However, this attempt prompts the narrator to write a list of “brilliant things” in the hopes of convincing her mother to enjoy life. While obviously the idea of a child, this list follows the narrator as her mother continues to struggle with depression. The list also introduces the counterpart to the earlier tone of death, bringing light and warmth to the play. The impact of the list on her mother seems to be fairly small, but it remains a source of happiness for the narrator as she grows up and faces her own battles with depression. The story oscillates between wonderful, amazing events the narrator experiences, prompting her to write them in her list, and somber periods of depression as she reckons with the reason for the list existing. This interplay between light and dark, comedy and tragedy, defines the story and every element within it, but it never feels jarring. The director, Skyler Denfeld, expertly guides us through this complicated emotional journey with grace and thoughtfulness.

Under Denfeld’s insightful direction, Asiado enchants the audience with her radiant personality. The play requires a lot of audience participation, from reading out items from the list to acting out characters in her life. Denfeld clearly worked extensively with Asiado to integrate the audience work with the script, because it feels extremely seamless. Because Asiado is a Chicago-based artist, half of the rehearsal period was conducted over video call before she could come to Utah for the remainder of rehearsal and the run itself. Denfeld’s willingness and ability to adapt to the needs of the actor and still produce an excellent show is a testament to the dedication of the director, and frankly the team as a whole.

The play is staged in a thrust style, meaning that the audience surrounds the stage on three of the four sides. Asiado uses the whole space, playing to every side naturally, and weaving among the seats to bring us into the story. Taylor Tew Nelson’s lighting, while highlighting the living-room-like-set, illuminates the audience, meaning that we couldn’t hide from each other under the cover of darkness. The audience participation encouraged by the script requires Asiado to engage in some improv to help us get on board. This creates a likable informal and comedic atmosphere, which helps the audience feel like we can actually offer our honest and raw emotion to the story. The production feels less like a performance and more like sitting around a fireplace with friends and hearing someone we love share a really brilliant story. 

The set, designed by Glenna Andersen, is cozy and inviting. The audience is immediately welcomed into the living space of the performer, ready to engage in a conversation with a peer. 

The sound design by Melanie Kamauu brings the show to life, primarily through needle drops of songs that are explicitly called out in the story as being meaningful. The performance is bookended by actual needle drops using an on-stage record player, which reinforces the performance space as a physical part of reality. 

Nelson’s lighting design superbly reinforces the feeling of intimacy created by the set by creating a sense of warm intimacy. Nelson makes excellent use of contrast, using darkness to emphasize the heavier moments and light to encourage light-heartedness. This obviously plays really well with the themes Denfeld explicitly calls out in his director’s note, concerning the roles of light and dark in the play.

Asiado costumes her player by selecting an outfit that felt like a cute casual fit you wouldn’t be surprised to see a young modern woman like herself wearing on an average day. The pink shirt and bow, symbolizing youth and naivety, are gradually shed as the character becomes older and sadder.

It’s hard to overstate just how much I enjoyed this production. From the instant I entered the theatre, I felt welcomed into a space where I could participate in discussing a really difficult aspect of human existence. Vicariously Staged worked incredibly hard to make every facet of the production intimate, fascinating, and beautiful. I felt immersed in the world of the play created with little more than one woman’s voice. It’s her world and we’re just living in it. 

This review will be published after the conclusion of this production, but I’d encourage everyone to keep an eye on this company in the future. I have a feeling that they’ll do brilliant things. 

For more information and updates, reach out to Vicariously Staged Productions at Connect on social media for exclusive content and updates: @VicariouslyStaged.


Front Row Reviewers

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