If ever there was a time for blissful melancholy, it’s the week leading into the holiday season. Thanksgiving has a way of ushering in a month of cozy family nostalgia, but tends to also sneak around the back with a smack of family conflict, travel stress or just general malaise.
Blindly happy entertainment can numb the reality for a bit, but ultimately reveals its hollow nature.
Enter, “Every Brilliant Thing” at the Waterfront Playhouse. The play, which was first staged in 2013 at Edinburgh Fringe before finding its feet with a strong showing Off-Broadway, has made its way to Key West, with two more shows Sunday and Monday, Nov. 28 and 29.
The production follows a young boy, confronted at age seven with his mother’s first suicide attempt. In an effort to combat what he can only understand as the blues, he pens a list of all the things that make life worth living, according to his little kid heart: ice cream, his dog, Sherlock Bones, etc.
The next time his mother makes an attempt on her life, our lead little has evolved into a teenager. His list has also evolved, hitting on progressively more mature elements. As we wind our way through his life, his list becomes a blueprint for happiness, fallible but attainable.
As the lone actor holding court, Arthur Crocker plays to the audience with authenticity and approachability. He manages to accomplish a difficult feat for a one-person play, and that is making the audience forget that they’re watching a one-person play. The time moves swiftly with Crocker giving everyone in the theater room to absorb the material, while still laughing along. Played with house lights on, the show involves audience members who sporadically call out scripted “brilliant things” and pop up to interact with Crocker as his father, wife, professor and support group.
As a structural tool that could be off-putting in other plays, the move works well in “Brilliant,” matching the tone of a conversational exchange. Of course, it also bears saying that the setup works because of Crocker’s very genuine down-to-earth-aw-shucks charisma. In his hands, the ride rolls and ripples nicely from meditations on grief to moments of effervescent humor and back to frank conversations about depression. It’s a properly human piece of writing, well-acted by an expert human. The only criticism of the material itself is that it, not surprisingly, wanders onto the softer side of touchy-feely. Of course, if you’re heading out to see live arts in late November, that’s partly why you’re there.
The seasonal scheduling feels appropriate to the material, but the larger sense of timing also works. At a time when people are just beginning to return to the theater, the tone echoes the uncertainty we’re all still feeling, as well as the sense of hopefulness that is just now being allowed back in.
Theaters in Key West have slight variations in their public health and safety protocols, but all are proceeding with caution. Most are requiring masks and proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test, for admittance and all are operating at reduced capacities. For the Waterfront, that magic number is 75%.
“Every Brilliant Thing” is designed to play to intimate crowds, so the reduced capacity does not impact the mood of the audience. On the second night of the run, there were audible cackles and even a few stifled sniffles.
The play has a short run at Waterfront Playhouse — with only two performances after Thanksgiving on Sunday and Monday, Nov. 28 and 29.
With all the energy Crocker has poured into his performance, here’s hoping those last two nights test the new capacity limits.
8 p.m. Nov. 28 & 29
Tickets at waterfrontplayhouse.org and 305-294-5015