“Every Brilliant Thing” at B Street Theatre is not so much a one-man play as it is an audience challenge.
Actor Dave Pierini defies you to deny his energy, enthusiasm and bonhomie. I’ll tell you right now, you can’t. He’s got more energy than you have will power. In the end, it won’t matter that what you experienced wasn’t really much of a play (though it is a bravura performance). Or that the part that was a play didn’t much deal with what it pretends to. You will have had some laughs and perhaps shed a few tears too, with Pierini good naturedly shepherding you through 65 minutes of interactive group therapy.
The unnamed character Pierini plays tells the story of his life framed through his mother’s suicide attempts. It’s kind of a comedy but with, you know, sad parts. He also engages the audience non-stop, which keeps attention focused even when then the slim story lags.
As audience members enter the theater, they are given pieces of paper with numbers and words or phrases written on them. When Pierini says your number, you say out loud the words on your paper. My number was 998 and the words were “Aromatic duck pancakes with hoisin sauce.” These are the “brilliant things” of the title, and there are theoretically a million of them.
At times it felt like Pierini was going to say them all – “sunsets,” “singing out loud,” “hugging,” “the alphabet,” “alcohol,” “tea and biscuits,” “conversation.” They are the banal and profound moments of life. The reasons for living. They are all on a list the narrator starts when his mother makes her first suicide attempt. As a child, he comes up with this idea to help her with her depression. He maintains the list through his life and his mother’s other suicide attempts as well. At one point he puts the list away and “forgets” about it, which seems a little odd since throughout most of the performance he obsesses over it. Luckily for him, it is providentially found.
Pierini also enlists audience members to portray a school guidance counselor, his girlfriend, an English teacher, his father and the veterinarian who tells the unnamed character – 7 years old at the time – to hold beloved family pet Sherlock Bones while the veterinarian puts the dog to sleep. (Seriously? Who does that to a 7-year-old?) The B Street audience volunteers eagerly played their parts, ad-libbing dialogue even suggesting narrative strands the play might take. Pierini facilely kept it all flowing.
Director Greg Alexander commits to material’s earnestness as it is the only way something like this can work. The British playwright Duncan Macmillan has an excellent ear for music with Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield, and savant poet songwriter Daniel Johnston all prominently featured.
The effervescent megawatt guy we see on stage has nothing to do with the dour character Pierini describes himself as being, and we are eternally grateful for that.
Every Brilliant Thing
What: An interactive, one-man play about a young man and his suicidal mother. Dave Pierini stars in Duncan Macmillan’s comedy drama.
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Sept. 18.
Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Cost: $26-$38, $8 student rush
Information: (916) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org
Time: 1 hour and five minutes.