Liz Callaway / Courtesy photo
TheatreSquared knew asking Liz Callaway to do a show of theirs would be a stretch. She’s busy with just about any project she wants – that’s a gift courtesy of winning an Emmy and being nominated for a Tony Award.
But they pitched the idea to her after she’d visited Fayetteville for the annual T2 charity gala that raises money for student scholarships. She read the script for the show they planned to produce, “Every Brilliant Thing.”
And she knew immediately what came next.
What: “Every Brilliant Thing” by TheatreSquared
When: 7:30 p.m. some Tuesdays and every Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday from Jan. 16 to Feb. 10
Where: Nadine Baum Studios, Fayetteville
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or theatre2.org
“‘Oh my gosh. I have to do this show!’” she told herself. “I had a strong reaction to it.”
And so it was. Callaway, a veteran of Broadway shows such as “Cats,” “Miss Saigon” and the singing voice behind many notable animated characters, cleared her schedule. She started work on memorizing the script over the summer and outlined some of the work with her husband, Dan Foster, who was brought on to direct the show. Those hours of work on this this one-person show will culminate in TheatreSquared’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing,” which opens for previews Jan. 16 and concludes Feb. 10.
“Every Brilliant Thing” started as a short story by Duncan Macmillan, and later transformed into a one-man show staring British comedian Jonny Donahoe. That concept was filmed for a documentary on HBO, and later fleshed out for the stage play that debuted off-Broadway in 2014 at the Barrow Street Theatre. It’s continued picking up momentum as a recent favorite of regional theaters as a one-person show with minimal staging.
But the minimalistic approach does not mean simplicity. “Every Brilliant Thing” tells the story of a person who is chronicling life’s happier moments as an attempt to cheer up a suicidal parent. It’s not as dreary as that seems, Callaway promises, and the concept relies on help from the audience. Instead of the half-moon seating configuration common at TheatreSquared shows, the space has been transformed into a theater-in-the-round experience. Callaway will sit in the center of the audience, and she will take cues from the audience members. Their participation makes each show a unique one, and presents a particular challenge to Callaway, who must pick up the flow of the story no matter where the unscripted portion might take them.
“The piece is a collaboration between me and the audience,” Callaway said.
That shouldn’t create consternation. Callaway works in involve people gently, and she watches to see how audience members are reacting – after all, she’s only a few feet away from those in the front row. “I’m not going to make someone do something they don’t want to do,” she said. If that’s not enough to ease fears, she expects most audience members will react exactly like she did when she watched a live production of “Every Brilliant Thing” in Philadelphia. She went with the purpose of watching the cadence of the show so she could understand how it flowed. Instead, she got sucked into the play and forgot to be anything but an audience member.
Callaway admits that it’s a difficult show to describe because of its fluid nature and unconventional structure. She expects those who do watch the show will come back for a second – or even third? – viewing during its Fayetteville run. She says it’s the kind of show people want to soak up, including for those who aren’t called to participate. And even for those who are feeling down, like her character’s mother. In a world where everyone experiences ups and downs, and where we’re hopelessly addicted to our cell phones, personal interaction does us favors, Callaway argues.
“You’re still part of it,” she said. “It’s so nice to have this collective experience.”
After the conclusion of her run in Fayetteville, Callaway will cross the country for a series of shows with her sister, Ann Hampton Callaway, in a Broadway review they call “Sibling Revelry.”