By Rachele Stoops
Lincoln Community Playhouse, Friday June 10, 2022
Decades ago, to complete my college theatre major, I rehearsed and performed a one-person play. At the end of one performance, a friend in the audience remarked that the whole time she had been marveling at how much I had had to memorize. I’m pretty sure she meant it as a compliment.
During Ashley Kobza’s performance of Every Brilliant Thing at the Lincoln Community Playhouse, I was not marveling at how much Kobza had had to memorize.
Instead, I was completely engrossed and invested in the story she wove, and the myriad emotions that engulfed me as she guided us through it.
Directed by the legendary Judy Hart, Every Brilliant Thing, playing in LCP’s Family Theater through June 19, is an immersive, interactive experience. It begins before the show even starts; the gallery leading to the theater features a large piece of white butcher paper on the wall, and a table holding sticky note pads and LCP pens. Ticket holders can write their own ‘brilliant things’ about life, their personal favorites, and add them to the wall.
The studio theater is set up with the audience on all sides – theatre in the round. It’s a choice meant to immediately involve the audience in the play. If you’ve exclusively attended performances in traditional proscenium arrangements, it may feel strange at first (my husband called it ‘weird’), but it’s just a minute or two before Kobza pulls the audience in and it all makes sense.
Kobza breaks the fourth wall and connects with the audience right away, as she moves around the seats and hands out large cards to people on all sides. On each card is a number, ranging from #1 to somewhere in the nine hundred thousands.
When the play begins, there’s no formal light cue or welcome speech; Kobza begins by calling out the first few numbers of the cards she handed out, and when their numbers are called, audience members read their cards aloud.
Ice cream! Laughing so hard you shoot milk out of your nose! Construction Cranes!
Kobza’s story begins at the beginning, and she takes the audience with her on a journey through the character’s responses to her mother’s struggles with depression. We might try to shield our young children from a story about suicidal ideation, yet the little girl Kobza portrays is just seven years old, and she’s living it.
The story is dotted with fantastic musical cues, both the song choices and the spot-on timing of the sound crew enrich the experience.
Kobza involves the audience throughout the play, and her warmth and inner glow ensure that no one who is asked to participate refuses. (Except for me; I didn’t take a card because I was writing notes for this review.) And from the collaboration of Kobza and the audience members she happens to choose in the moment, something deep and powerful emerges.
I don’t want to spoil the story. I just want everyone to experience it. Honestly, it took me a while to gather myself afterward to even put my impressions into words. And I didn’t take that many notes, because I couldn’t pull myself out of the story.
I’ve been ‘doing theatre’ for more than thirty years, and this was one of the most impactful, joyous, heartbreaking experiences I’ve ever had in or at a show. I was in tears within the first five minutes. I laughed often, and grabbed my husband’s hand, and in the parking lot afterwards, I took some huge, deep breaths.
Ashley Kobza shares this story so beautifully that I had to double check the program to see if she had written it. (She didn’t.) It doesn’t sound like my carefully memorized performance of Belle of Amherst in 1997. It sounds like real life, and I promise you, you don’t want to miss it.
If you go: Every Brilliant Thing is playing at the Lincoln Community Playhouse on June 11, 17, and 18 at 7:30pm, and June 12 and 19 at 2:00pm. Seats in the Family Theater are limited, so reserve tickets quickly at lincolnplayhouse.com.
This show deals with depression and suicidal ideation, and may not be suitable for all viewers.
Dr. Rachele Stoops teaches English for Graduation Pathways during the school year, and is spending the summer teaching summer school, taking more graduate classes, juggling her side hustles, and complaining about how busy she is. She’s super proud of her four incredible grown up kids (3 bio + 1 bonus) and is thankful for her fantastically supportive husband, Shane, and her adorable but unfriendly chihuahua.
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