William Thomas Hodgson Shines in Spectacular Solo
by Robert M. Gardner
Fans of Improv theater will love this solo performance. William Thomas Hodgson takes no prisoners as he cajoles, persuades, and seduces a few audience members to take an active part in a profound and rollicking show.
As The Narrator, Hodgson begins as a boy of 7, who is plagued by his mother’s depression and attempts at suicide. Hodgson searches frantically for positive things in his life to lift himself up.
He starts to make a list of 1,000 Brilliant Things in his life. He hands out cards to some audience members, each with a number and one brilliant thing written on them. As he calls out random numbers, the resulting chaos brings hilarity, energizing the audience:
1. Ice cream
2. Kung Fu movies
3. Staying up past your bedtime & being allowed to watch TV
Hodgson makes himself the perfect vehicle to portray the child hero. Engaging, charismatic, and nimble witted, he deals deftly with scripted and unscripted responses. He takes us from laughter to tears as the boy deals with his mother’s traumatic suicide attempts—and his father’s emotional distance.
The boy knows when he can approach his father or when to leave him alone, based on his choice of music. When his Dad plays Ray Charles or Nina Simone, it means he can talk; but when Dad plays Jazz that is “all over the place,” he leaves him alone to brood. We follow the boy as he grows up and finds new insights. Slowly, we realize how deeply his mother’s depression has affected his life and choices.
The only prop on the set is an old-style record player and a box of records. Hodgson picks random cuts to play, in Gregory Robinson’s skillfully crafted sound design. Director Jeffrey Lo sets a fast pace, but slows the pace to express poignant moments. Lo gives us time to absorb the deep emotional conflicts portrayed by Hodgson.
One of the most uproarious moments happens when Hodgson invites a woman to play his college-aged character’s girlfriend. He starts by staring longingly from a distance, then building to a funny, awkward first meeting—it’s touching and perfectly done.
When she helps him grow the list, it leaps into thousands more “brilliant things.” Their long relationship adds nuance and sensuality to the list:
761. You’re not too old to climb trees
955. Bubble wrap
994. Really good oranges
Hodgson takes us through a visit to the vet (another audience member) with his dog, wringing laughter and love from each delightful encounter. He slowly reaches into hearts and our sympathies. Suddenly, we’re all in this together.
Another high point comes with his school librarian Mrs. Patterson, who makes a sock-puppet to talk with him. He calls it Cinnamon Bun and as an adult, he calls her late at night—another beautiful moment.
Playwright Duncan Macmillan, working with Jonny Donahoe, has written a masterful play which both entertains and challenges. We leave the theater happy but pensive, feeling a camaraderie with other members of the audience, as we share a truly interactive experience. Don’t miss “Every Brilliant Thing”—a uniquely warm-hearted and sociable show.
“Every Brilliant Thing” by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, directed by Jeffrey Lo, by Center Repertory Company, at Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, California. Info: CenterREP.org – to January 28, 2024.
Cast: William Thomas Hodgson
Banner photo: William Thomas Hodgson takes us through life’s most remarkable moments. Photos: Alessandra Mello