Review: “Every Brilliant Thing” at Theatre Three

Jeffrey Sanzel in “Every Brilliant Thing” at Theatre Theatre

Every so often you encounter a piece of theatre that leaves you in awe. “Every Brilliant Thing” – a one-man show starring Jeffrey Sanzel – evokes that feeling seamlessly.

Theatre Three’s history of producing high-quality theatrical productions is no secret to the Long Island Theatre community and casual theatre-goers alike. For instance, ticket-holders lauded their last main stage production of “Mamma Mia” as a mega-hit across social media platforms and beyond. This time around, Sanzel performs the theater’s latest endeavor on Theatre Three’s second stage – the intimate Ronald F. Peierls Theatre. Audience members sit at tables – seating four – in an environment eliciting the feel of a cozy cabaret space. The magic happening on this small stage proves you do not need any bells and whistles to conjure a remarkable theatrical experience.

The Brilliance of “Every Brilliant Thing”

The experience begins organically as Mr. Sanzel makes his way around the room. He smiles at new faces and friends and acquaintances alike with subtle, but endearing hellos. He also hands out slips of paper to audience members. Mr. Sanzel – stepping into the role of a nameless narrator – instructs the recipients to read aloud the word or phrase of the paper when he calls out a number at some point.

Examples:

  1. Ice cream
  2. Kung Fu movies
  3. Burning things
  4. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out of your nose
  5. Construction cranes
  6. Me

These are numbers from “the list” – the list of every brilliant thing in life that playwright Duncan Macmillan originally wrote for his mother after a suicide attempt. The list would continue to grow, as he did – eventually taking on the life of its own and leading to the inspiration for this play.

Mr. Sanzel’s performance as a stand-in for Macmillan feels conversational – like you’re sitting down with a friend who is opening up about their past for the first time. He exudes an essence of vulnerability, making the revelations of the narrator’s misfortunes palpable. However, both the material and the actor’s charisma keep the production on an even emotional keel. Mr. Sanzel has the ability to invoke heartache as he narrates his character’s experience growing up with a suicidal mother. He also has the skill to pivot to observing all the absurdities of everyday life and igniting hearty laughter.

Tears stung my own eyes as Mr. Sanzel played out one of the earlier vignettes with a vet – played by a member of the audience – and an imaginary dog in his arms. Transforming into a young boy with his voice, he brings his dog to the vet to put him to rest. The descriptions are so vivid they evoked memories of a similar experience of mine. I couldn’t help but notice similar reactions to other scenes as the show continued. These human experiences tie us together and in that theater the audience has the opportunity to look into themselves.

Theatre for a Cause

Theatre Three worked with the Response Crisis Center in order to bring this Long Island premiere to fruition. Fifty percent of the gross proceeds of the production go to the center, which provides a free, 24-hour hotline connecting callers with professionally trained and supervised volunteers. They are also a bountiful resource for mental health education, addressing topics such as how suicide is handled by the media and combating the romanticization of suicide.

This is a true “don’t-miss” theatrical experience. Not only is Mr. Sanzel’s performance masterful, but the piece exists as an effort to break the ongoing stigma about suicide and mental illness in general.

Catch the Last Two Weekends

Two more performances of this beautiful show remain and tickets are selling quickly. It plays Sundays at 3 PM.

Visit TheatreThree.com or call (631) 928-9100 to reserve your seats today.

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