My community, like so many others around the world, is contracting in the face of contagion. Until yesterday, Friday, the 13th, Idaho was one of the last four states in the union with no confirmed cases of Covid-19. Nevertheless, the Capital City, surrounding communities, Boise State campus, and large corporations were cancelling events and gatherings. Treefort, the much anticipated spring music festival, postponed till September, sporting events were cancelled, and then came cancellations of arts events like the Boise Philharmonic. Even my small book club cancelled our Sunday discussion at the library.
Bucking the trend and probably exhibiting a streak of stubborn denial, I spontaneously decided to attend a Boise Contemporary Theatre (BCT) production before that organization cancels its spring season. I knew there’d be empty seats in the theatre and wanted to support the artists who work so hard for their brief moments of glory and tiny monetary compensations. For me, these closures are a mere inconvenience. For the artist community, life has just turned upside down.
My money and time were well spent. Every Brilliant Thing, written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe and performed by Christian Libonati, explores the impacts of suicide from the eyes of a seven-year-old boy. The lasting effects of his mother’s suicide attempt(s), paired with the inability of his father to talk about the subject, shape Jonny’s life through the course of the play.
Given the subject matter, one might expect a grim tear-jerker. Instead, Every Brilliant Thing is filled with hope and raucous humor. Staged in the round, the production makes brilliant use of audience participation—something I’m usually not keen about. For 90 minutes, Libonati darts up and down the aisles hauling in surrogate stage partners to serve as his father, his girlfriend/wife, a school counselor. Libonati’s energy is astounding. He rivets audience attention with a gentle force. There are wet-eye moments—the play would lack authenticity without them—but there are even more moments of shy chuckles and outright belly laughs.
In 2016 HBO released a documentary film of the the Barrow Street Theatre production in New York City. Rotten Tomatoes film critics ranked the film an unheard of 100%, with a 96% audience rating.
From the BCT program notes about Every Brilliant Thing:
This funny and moving play shines a light on mental health and suicide, a serious problem in our day and culture. . . . For the run of this play BCT has partnered with St. Luke’s Health System and its Behavioral Health team to help bring awareness of mental health issues and available resources to our community. Behavioral health professionals from St. Luke’s and advisory members from the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, a program of Jannus, Inc., will be on hand in BCT’s lobby before and after each performance offering information and materials on mental health issues and help that is available for our community members struggling with depression and other related challenges. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, call or text the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at (208) 398-4357. To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-8255
During the Corona Virus pandemic, fear, illness, cabin fever, and death will visit communities across the country; mental health will suffer. If you find your outlook on life changing, your patience waning, your anxiety increasing, please reach out to your friends, family, and local mental health hotlines for a reset.
Update: Two hours before I left for the theatre yesterday, Governor Little announced the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Boise. Here we go.