British comedian Jonny Donahoe to perform the one-man show ‘Every Brilliant Thing’
Concerned about his suicidal mother, a British boy creates a list for her of things that make life worthwhile.
That’s the premise behind “Every Brilliant Thing,” a drama/comedy performed by British comedian and actor Jonny Donahoe.
Mr. Donahoe, 38, will perform the one-man show at 7 p.m. Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 and 3 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Center Stage Theater, upstairs at Paseo Nuevo in Santa Barbara.
The show is being presented during Suicide Awareness Month. And proceeds will benefit New Beginnings, a nonprofit that provides counseling and housing assistance services to homeless and low-income individuals and families in Santa Barbara County.
Mr. Donahoe described the plot of “Every Brilliant Thing” Wednesday morning during a phone interview from his home in Glasgow, Scotland.
“A little boy is told by his dad this his mum cannot think of anything worth living for, which is the reason she keeps trying to take her life,” Mr. Donahoe told the News-Press, adding that the play doesn’t discuss the mother’s mental health diagnosis. “He tries to create a list of things worth living for and gives it to her.
“He continues to write the list for the rest of his life,” Mr. Donahoe said. “He meets someone, falls in love and goes to the university. You see him continue to write that list.
“When he’s 7 or 8 years old, the list says ‘ice cream,’ ‘water fights’ and ‘staying up past your bedtime,’ ” Mr. Donahoe said. “As he gets older, the list changes greatly.
“I just think the trick to the storytelling is to be completely in the moment with the audience, rather than try to convince them that I’m a particular age,” he said.
“The character I play has no name. He’s called the Narrator,” Mr. Donahoe said. “There’s an everyman in the person.”
The play was written by Duncan McMillian with Mr. Donahoe’s contirbutions, and it’s based on a story that Mr. McMillian wrote. Director George Perrin persuaded Mr. McMillian to bring the story to the stage, and Mr. Donahoe has been performing “Every Brilliant Thing” since the show began in 2014.
Others around the world have performed the one-person show as well. Mr. Donahoe explained that Mr. McMillian has encouraged whoever’s performing “Every Brilliant Thing” to adapt it for his or her audience.
“There’s a wonderful performance by a woman who performed it in Spanish in Harlem,” Mr. Donahoe said. “They changed a lot of things in a beautiful way to represent the culture.
“It’s really important that the it’s not gendered, and it doesn’t have to be someone who looks like me or thinks like me,” Mr. Donahoe said.
Mr. Donahoe said he loves “Every Brilliant Thing” and has performed it more than 400 times on several continents.
He explained the reasons for the play’s popularity.
“I think it’s the fact that it’s so open and honest about mental health,” he said. “When we started doing the show in 2014, there didn’t seem to be many shows talking about mental health. It was taboo to talk about it.
“When we started, we lucked into the period when people were wanting to hear about mental health,” said Mr. Donahoe, who earned his bachelor’s in English and Anglo-Saxon in 2006 at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. “You need the world to be ready to hear it.
“What makes this work is the central theatrical metaphor of the show that you cannot exist as an island, on your own, independent of everyone else,” Mr. Donahoe said. “You can’t survive your mental health problems without reaching out and talking to people.
“It has such a great simplicity at its core,” he said. “That’s the reason it’s universally appreciated.”
Mr. Donahoe said he has seen people open up to him because of “Every Brilliant Thing.”
“I’m not a therapist. I’m not a psychologist,” he said. “But I have received hundreds of letters and emails from people who shared their stories with me, and I’m proud to have received them. Essentially people have shared with me their experience. I hope the show gives them catharsis.
“The show is very serious, but it’s also laugh-aloud funny from start to finish,” Mr. Donahoe said. “The show is about community and sharing through a lot of laughter. I think that is really important.”
And Mr. Donahoe noted the production includes five or six deeply improvised parts in which Mr. Donahoe recruits people from the audience to play key people in the character’s life, such as his father, partner or schoolteacher. Before recruiting them, Mr. Donahoe talks to the audience to see who would enjoy being on stage.
Mr. Donahoe recalled recruiting a rabbi from an audience in a 2018 show in New York, which was filmed by HBO and streamed the following year.
“It was a good version of the show,” said Mr. Donahoe, who has two daughters, 10 months and 4 years old, with his partner, British comedian Josie Long. “He (the rabbi) was so wholesome and wise, and it was such a pleasure performing with him.”
He added he has seen the entire audience’s spirits lift during “Every Brilliant Thing.”
“You might be tired. You might have had a hard day’s work,” Mr. Donahoe said. “You come in as individuals with a particular mood.”
Mr. Donahoe said his favorite thing about live theater is seeing different individuals with different thoughts relaxing into an audience experiencing a story together. “Hopefully, you see people soften and relax and open up.
“You can tell they’ve done that because they laugh.”
New Beginnings will present British comedian and actor Jonny Donahoe in his award-winning one-man show, “Every Brilliant Thing,” at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 (the preview show), 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 and 3 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Center Stage Theater, upstairs at Paseo Nuevo in Santa Barbara.
Tickets cost $99 on Sept. 23 and 25 and $149 on Sept. 24. To purchase, go to centerstagetheater.org.
Receptions will follow the Sept. 23 and 24 shows. A reception will take place at 2 p.m. Sept. 25 before that day’s performance.
Proceeds will benefit New Beginnings, a nonprofit that provides counseling and housing assistance services to homeless and low-income individuals and families in Santa Barbara County. For more information, go to sbnbcc.org.
And September is Suicide Awareness Month. The new Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 988.