​‘Every Brilliant Thing’ in Sewanee this Weekend

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

Ice cream and Christopher Walken’s voice are among the things that make life worth living, according to a one-man play slated for the Tennessee Williams Center on Saturday, Oct. 28, and Sunday, Oct. 29.
“Every Brilliant Thing,” written by Duncan Macmillan, explores a son’s attempts to cope with his mother’s depression and suicidal tendencies by telling her about the wonderful features of life.
Amelia Peterson directs her husband, Joshua, in the light-hearted and poignant production. Amelia said the play is very human and has universal elements.
“We were drawn to it because the story felt honest,” she said. “It’s such a unique piece of theater and by the end of it the audience feels like they’ve watched each other and gotten to know each other in a more communal way than you normally do in the theater.”
The play relies on audience participation and people often cringe when they hear that, but Amelia said the comedian who helped write it for the stage, Jonny Donahoe, penned the play so that audience participation “is not horrifying and actually really fun and playful.”
“You can’t laugh until you feel safe,” she said. “He was just so attuned to that, so he ended up writing in the audience involvement in a way that feels really safe and natural.”
Amelia, 32, and Josh, 37, staged “Every Brilliant Thing” in April and May in Knoxville at the River and Rail Theatre Company, which they operate. Amelia said directing her husband was a challenge, but it worked well.
“In my mind this was very separated, ‘I am your director in rehearsal and your wife at home and never the two shall mix,’ and he was a little more relaxed about it… I think the two of us found a healthy balance, giving ourselves breaks when we bumped into husband and wife things in rehearsal but also working hard to make things professional.”
The Petersons met while studying at Southern Methodist University in 2006 where they were students of James Crawford, current Sewanee associate theatre professor. Crawford went to see the play in Knoxville.
“It was captivating from the first minute to the last,” he said. “The audience was engaged throughout, laughing loudly, and completely engrossed emotionally.”
Crawford said the production is thought-provoking.
“So many people have experienced mental illness in their family,” he said. “This play provides an unexpected way of looking at the issue with fresh eyes. I’ve found myself thinking about passages form the play ever since. I carry it with me.”
Amelia said “Every Brilliant Thing” finds a healthy way to talk about suicide, but does not go into graphic detail.
“Every Brilliant Thing,” which is free, begins at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 and
2 p.m. on Oct. 29.