By Patrick B. McGuigan
NOTE: A shorter version of this review appeared previously, but this version more accurately captures the spirit and content of a particularly fine production.
In the opening show of OKC Rep’s 2019-2020 season, actor Jon Haque was in his best form. He drew us to tears of sadness and memory, and into soaring moments of joy and fondness. The story shared the chronicle of one character remembering the course of his own life and that of his mother, beset through all her days with a deep depression pointing to a sad end in suicide.
The lad in the story begins in early years to write down happy thoughts, usually in a full sentence but sometimes in just a few key words. Haque was magnificent in the one-man performance within a story is alternately joyful and heart-breaking, poignant and powerful. The audience was drawn into the performance in clever and unthreatening ways, giving the drama authenticity and delivering the story of (most of) a life and those touched in the course of that time. This production was the most deft use of unrehearsed (but scripted) audience participation this reviewer has ever experienced.
“Every Brilliant Thing” was great theatre. All credit to Don Jordan, artistic director for OKC Rep (formerly CityRep) for choosing this show for the new cycle.
Haque had stellar support from all in off-stage posts. Linda K. Leonard’s direction made full use of the intimate CitySpace venue in the basement of the Civic Center. Haque, always a master in projection and dynamism, literally touched everyone in the audience during a particular moment of enthusiastic interaction during the performance this reviewer attended.
Steve Emerson’s stage direction (with assistant Michael Corolla) and the lighting of Scott Hynes made it easy to suspend disbelief and let imagination take you through the years of the life of Narrator (Haque’s character, from age seven through late middle age) as he wrote down his “brilliant things” – sometimes in orderly notebooks, often on whatever paper or surface available in a given moment. The set design was plain and simple, flexible enough to support Haque. Marcellus Hawkins was credited for Sound Design – he thrilled with the apt selection of songs presented in snippets that fit perfectly with the story line.
The subject matter was grave, yet presented with such gracious energy and wit (sometimes dark, sometimes natural) that it entered the souls of the audience members, there to marinate and rest for a time, to emerge in unbidden moments for days after.
Some research would be required to separate Haque’s ad-libs, unfailingly on-point, from the underlying script of Duncan Macmillan (with Johnny Donohoe).
Suffice to say that this was performance art that matters.