On Nov. 9, 1921, Albert Einstein won the Nobel prize in physics for his ‘‘theoretical services to physics and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.’’
The same day in 1965, seven Northeastern states and the Canadian province of Ontario were hit by a blackout touching 30 million residents (ironically, the affected system was designed to deploy in an emergency).
If you were to ask one 7-year-old boy about the coincidence, he probably would have waxed eloquent amid his pain. On Nov. 9, 1992, his mother attempted suicide for the first time — and in a Herculean attempt to turn his mom’s spirits around, he began creating a list of ‘‘everything worth living for,’’ from ice cream to his late dog Chubby to Pad Thai with chicken to Nina Simone’s voice to clandestinely peeing in the ocean to ‘‘the feeling of calm which follows the realization that, although you may be in a regrettable situation, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The Einstein item never makes his litany in Every Brilliant Thing, the current mount at Cygnet Theatre Company; but the beauty of this good show is that it might as well. Every item in the human experience, the young man declares, is worth our effort to understand its significance.
And who better to proclaim this than a loving son living under the shadow of suicide.
The unnamed narrator’s list will include nearly a million items as he survives his traumatic youth, matures and marries — still, his best intentions aren’t enough to stave the million and first, which in his parlance involves a personal tragedy.
‘‘If you live a long life and get to the end of it without once feeling crushingly depressed,’’ he gently counsels us, ‘‘then you probably haven’t been paying attention.’’
The persistent remedy is to connect with those who make him what he is, courtesy of the audience, whose members are called on for their portrayals — his grouchy dad, his butter-wouldn’t-melt fiancee, a button-down professor, a school guidance counselor (who on the day I attended was terrific). Ro Boddie plays the narrator with singular investment in his character and in the people around him — and while the interaction has its slightly shticky quality, it’s almost required to advance the action.
[A]t one point, he’ll high-five everybody in the place with the same smile that bests his divorce’s depressive effects.
The more persuasive our narrator becomes, the greater our need for more explanation about the background that yielded such a level temperament. His dad was a cantankerous and independent sort; his mom would re-attempt suicide; divorce is staring straight at him in every direction: Surely, there’s a badge of honor behind each event, yet Boddie has moments in which he shrugs past them autonomously, opting to trade that badge for the ingratiation that will never yield it.
But the line that fuels that persona is exceedingly thin, and director Rob Lutfy and his assistant Adrian Alita straddle it with confidence and care. Boddie’s Everyman guise is in full swing amid his singing, dancing, guitar playing and physical endurance (at one point, he’ll high-five everybody in the place with the same smile that bests his divorce’s depresssive effects).
Abigail Caywood’s set and costumes are distorted in a good way, setting off the same fun-house backdrop that colors Caroline J. Andrew’s lights (their physical contortions if not her design).
Did you know that Beyonce — she of Destiny’s Child and 100 million in record sales and 22 Grammy Awards and a No. 1 debut on Billboard’s top 200 — is Gustav Mahler’s eighth cousin four times removed? Truth. It takes an incredible leap to reconcile the relationship between one of popular music’s elite and a bookish, tortured Austrian composer who suffered excruciating migraines and once barely survived a bicycle accident — but both figures reflect an unheard-of lust to the game of life that almost demands a family tie.
Corollary: While suicide isn’t a pleasant topic, the God-given life that fuels its ideation is anything but. Boddie and company attest to this amid a strongly inclusive framework, a veritable public service on the nature of life’s rigors and joys.
This review is based on the performance of Aug. 26. Every Brilliant Thing runs through Sept. 16 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. in Old Town. $25-$60. 619-337-1525, cygnettheatre.com.