There’s laughing at a sensitive subject (potentially cruel), and then there’s laughing despite it (potentially cathartic).
Actor Dan Klarer said audiences needn’t feel guilty busting out — and might not be able to help themselves at the right moments — during “Every Brilliant Thing,” the widely praised and fairly new-on-the-scene play coming Thursday for its Wisconsin premiere to Third Avenue Playhouse in downtown Sturgeon Bay for a nearly six-week run.
“I’ve never read a play where I laugh out loud and (then) tear up and go through every emotion the character does,” Klarer said. “The ending is so hopeful and sweet. We’ve rehearsed it with some test audiences, and it’s unbelievable how they are crying on the floor with laughter.”
The audience-interaction play follows a boy/man throughout life and repeated suicide attempts by his mother, starting when he was age 7. The “brilliant” things — meant in the sense of sparkling and awesome, not ingenious — are a list of reasons to live and enjoy life that the son gives his mom to try to cheer her up.
The earnest hope that these little hints and tidbits can ward off tragedy is the narrator’s “coping mechanism,” Klarer said, much like humorous stories about the deceased at a funeral are no longer viewed as taboo but a tribute.
The author of “Every Brilliant Thing,” British playwright Duncan Macmillin, has said in interviews that his approach to the topic, though potentially controversial, is at least as practical, meaningful and therapeutic as the failed means of the past, including stigmatizing suicide victims as selfish or simply not speaking of them.
“It really deals with how we as a society deal with depression and the aftermath and how we can help that situation,” Klarer said. “In that respect, it’s important we have this conversation and that coping mechanism. At the end, the narrator is still coping. He’s used this list to help a lot of people, mainly himself and not just his mom.”
TAP is getting in on the ground floor with a contemporary show that has not been made or seen much in the United States yet, at least not on stage.
The four-year-old play became available for general theatrical performances only last year, when its rights were opened for purchase by Macmillin and the original producers. Until then, it was hit a in the United Kingdom starring British comedian/musician Jonny Donahoe.
The play then went on a worldwide tour, including landing on American shores in December 2014 with its U.S. premiere off-Broadway at Barrow Street Theatre. Three of the shows were filmed, concert-footage style, for an HBO documentary that aired last Christmastime — an ironic, but deliberate, choice, because the holiday season is when depression and suicide can spike among those not sharing the festive feeling.