Review: Kinetic’s ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ Faces Darkness With Hope and Humor


The alchemy of Every Brilliant Thing is a wonder that apparently works with just one consistent ingredient. Marcus Weiss is the lone actor, guide, soothing presence and often everything everywhere all at once. He leads the audience through an hour and 15 minutes of melancholy and exuberance, depression and humor … opposing forces that often work against each other but here, instead, combine in an immersive exploration of depression, suicide and hope. 

Weiss, a former Cirque du Soleil clown and member of Blue Man Group, comes to Pittsburgh via Andrew Paul’s Kinetic Theatre. You come to understand that if he were an energy source, he could light up all 42 floors in the Cathedral of Learning. 

His power of positivity has been emanating from the Cathedral’s basement, n Pitt’s Rauh Studio Theatre, where Weiss is host, star, guide and fuel of the play Every Brilliant Thing

Marcus Weiss previously starred in Every Brilliant Thing for Vegas Theatre Company. (Images: Richard Brusky. Courtesy of Vegas Theatre Company)

Weiss is not alone. The serio-comic work requires him to cast audience members in all roles besides his own, and he has quite the story to tell. From age 7 to adulthood, we follow him through the hell of a clinically depressed mother and her multiple suicide attempts.

As a boy, he has a brilliant idea: He will create a list of every wonderful, life-affirming thing his young mind can think of, and present it to his mother as a reason to live. That list grows and grows, and injects itself into his life at key times, especially when he is in need of a few brilliant things himself.

Every performance is different, depending on how individual audience members deliver on the prompts they are given as they arrive. Some have more to do than others. I felt lucky to be in a very game group on Thursday. My fellow audience members who were tasked with portraying loved ones and others did so with sincerity and gumption that added to the experience.

Of course, for this communal piece of theater to work, Weiss must win first our trust and, increasingly, our empathy. He encourages but never demands, accepts what you are willing to give and is delighted when you go above and beyond.

It is essential, therefore, that audience members are convinced that the lone actor in the room believes what he is saying to his core. And with Weiss, that’s easy to do.

The actor introduces himself as Marcus as you walk into a theater where he is surrounded on four sides by banks of seats, but no barriers, lest he wants to join you. In character, he always speaks in the first-person, and it is hard to remember that this is a Duncan Macmillan play, and not the actor’s own story. Macmillan developed the format working with comedian Jonny Donahoe, circa 2013.

The plausible plot about a child deeply affected by a parent’s demons and the coping mechanism he conceives could easily be on the list of “brilliant things.” Those include ice cream, vinyl records, even-numbered Star Trek movies, old people holding hands … the “things” on the list depend on when we find him, as we time travel through his life.

How we learn what’s on the list is better left for the experience. In the intimate setting, with Paul’s direction, Weiss earns our empathy as someone who has seen the darkest of times and has come to tell his tale, that we may learn from his way of coping and healing. 

Kinetic Theatre’s production of Every Brilliant Thing has partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Western Pennsylvania chapter, for this production, which includes insights and statistics regarding suicides and how it affects loved ones.

When Weiss’ character delivers a piece of advice for anyone thinking about suicide, it comes from a place of hope that is perfectly, poignantly fitting: 

“Don’t,” he says. “It’s going to get better.”


Kinetic Theatre’s production of Every Brilliant Thing is at the University of Pittsburgh’s Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre, Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland. \he show runs Thursday-Sunday through June 11. Tickets: $42 in advance, $45 at the door, $20 for p25 and younger with valid I.D. via Showclix, 1-888-718-4253 or https://kinetictheatre.org.

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