When this year’s widespread adoption of COVID vaccines in the Bay Area promised a return to normal, it was a cause for celebration. Unfortunately, people celebrated too early, and the delta variant halted all plans of full reopening for theater performances. For the Oakland Theater Project, which had spent most of the pandemic producing “drive-in” shows, its July opening of “The Dream Life of Malcolm X” — planned as a seated, outdoor show — became one of the many casualties.
Three months later and with infection numbers dropping again, OTP is giving in-person performances another shot with its upcoming solo show. Written by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, “Every Brilliant Thing” explores mental health and existentialism from the point-of-view of an unnamed narrator.
According to the press release, the show “finds a subtle balance in exploring struggle and celebration, weaving raucous humor and painful loss. [It] reveals what it is like to be a child of a suicidal mother and the experience of processing grief and fighting for the ones you love. And with a society grappling with loss and isolation in a pandemic, this production not only delves into important questions in a way that allows us to process them and laugh at ourselves, but this production also places the actor and audience in a visceral sense of shared space.”
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The show is personal on several levels. First, it involves OTP’s co-founders/co-artistic directors, with Michael Moran directing William Hodgson. Second, the narrator gets up close and personal with members of the audience in an attempt to connect his joy and sorrow to each of them. As described by the company, “Our hope is that this play offers a catharsis, a collective connection back in our theater and a gentle experience of hope that transcends all the strife and struggle we’ve experienced.”
As with previous shows, “Every Brilliant Thing” will be staged at the company’s new home at the FLAX Art & Design building in Oakland — indoors instead of in the parking lot for the first time since the pandemic began.
“We’re thrilled that we’ve built out our first theater and are grateful to have FLAX as a partner,” says managing director Colin Mandlin. “[W]e love this theater because it’s downtown and near public transportation so our space can be accessible. And I think we’ve fallen in love with the space because the warehouse theater feel helps us to convey our aesthetic and ethos of being of the people and by and for the city of Oakland. And the blue-collar feel of the space also helps to keep it feeling welcoming for folks from all backgrounds — it feels authentically Oakland and inclusive, which is so important to us.”
“Every Brilliant Thing” runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays starting this Friday through Oct. 31 at the FLAX Art & Design building at 1501 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland. Proof of vaccination is required for entry, and masks must be worn at all times. Tickets range from $25-50, with a limited number of $10-20 “pay what you can” tickets for each performance. For tickets and more information, visit oaklandtheaterproject.org/brilliant.
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at The Thinking Man’s Idiot.