By Mary Boyle
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, over 700 Wisconsin residents die by suicide each year — over four times the homicide rate — and over 5,500 are hospitalized due to intentional, self-inflicted injury. While these statistics are difficult to digest, talking about suicide proves to be even more difficult. Theatre is an excellent tool for making difficult topics accessible, and that is especially true of the new play Every Brilliant Thing, happening at The Rep's intimate Stiemke Studio through May 5th.
Written by Duncan Macmillan, with Jonny Donahoe, and directed by Terrence J. Nolen, Every Brilliant Thing is an impressive one-man show starring Scott Greer that sheds a hopeful light on the topic of suicide by documenting the impact it had on a boy whose mother made multiple attempts over several decades of his life, beginning when he was just a child in 1977. After this first attempt, the boy began a list of all the things worth living for, in the hopes that it might save his mother. As he ages, the list continues to work its way back into his life, as well as in the lives of others, in different and powerful ways, and becomes a shrine to the absolute beauty of life.
This powerful, highly engaging show requires a lot of audience participation; audience members actually play the roles of the boy's father, first love, teachers, and more, as well as reading off entries on the list, which makes for a different play every time Greer takes the stage. This concept also means that Greer needs to do a lot of improv and quick thinking, which can lead to both hightly comedic and profound results.
In the play, Greer says, "Every suicide is a tidal wave, with many left in its wake." Not only does the production address suicide prevention, it has a broad focus on support for the family members and friends in the circle of someone who has attempted, or has been lost by, suicide by offering resources within the show. The Rep takes this a step further through the use of Act II, which is a community guest responder who delivers a five-minute response to the show, followed by an opportunity for audience members to participate in small group discussions led by trained members of the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion.
Act II has been praised both locally and nationally, and was overwhelmingly successful at bringing diverse groups of people together for dialogue around community issues. More than 9,000 patrons took advantage of the opportunity to share, listen, and learn with a group of fellow audience members over the past three seasons with American Song, Disgraced and Until the Flood, making this a highly sought after audience experience. This format has the opportunity to create the space for mutual understanding and respect allowing for open and honest dialogue.
Every Brilliant Thing runs through May 5th at the Stiemke Studio, located within the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex at 108 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased by calling (414) 224-9490, in-person at the Box Office, or online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com.
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
The Milwaukee Rep is the largest performing arts organization in Wisconsin, in terms of audiences served, and one of the largest professional theaters in the country. Each year, The Rep welcomes up to 275,000 people at nearly 700 performances of 15 productions, ranging from compelling dramas, powerful classics, new plays, and full-scale musicals in its three unique performance venues: the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio, and Stackner Cabaret. Now in its 65th Season, The Rep has gained a national reputation as an incubator of new work, an agent of community change, and a forward-thinking provider of .vital arts education programs. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Clements and Executive Director Chad Bauman, Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee's rich diversity.