‘Every Brilliant Thing’ Combines Theater and Art in Unique Ways

When David Widder-Varhegyi first discovered Every Brilliant Thing, a one-man play written by David Macmillon with Johnny Donahoe, in 2016 he said to himself it would be amazing to perform it. “This makes sense to me,” David remembered thinking. “It’s one of those texts that you read and understand completely.” The work spoke to him and he could feel its energy. Trained in theater performance from Cedarville University, and with experience both acting in and producing dozens of shows, David knew he would be able to produce it.

David is shown in a 2016 production of “The Winter’s Tale” (Photo courtesy of dwidderv.com).

It wasn’t because of his skillset that David never produced Every Brilliant Thing, rather it was finding the right time to do it. After graduating college in 2017, he found himself shifting between jobs–agriculture, education, and construction. These changes in occupation were accompanied by moves, which saw him travel from Ohio to Virginia, Nicaragua, and New York, before settling in Wheeling, West Virginia in 2019. All the while, David had been on a four-year hiatus from performing. The Wheeling Feeling would serve to respark David’s imagination.

David began performing again when he joined the St Matthew’s Episcopal Church choir, something he reflects on proudly. He officially made his debut in Wheeling with David Sings, an annual show produced by him. In 2021, David turned a farm in Marshall County into a concert hall for an Elton John tribute show–the first iteration of David Sings. In 2022, he continued the series with a Musical Theatre Revue, combining pieces from 13 shows during a Halloween masquerade party at Clientele Art Studio. As David considered what to do for his 2023 edition of David Sings, he wanted to return to his training in speaking performances.

As he considered his 2023 David Sings show, David was reminded of Every Brilliant Thing. Similar to when he first found the piece in 2016, David was about to embark on another move. “When I was approaching the play in the midst of my life circumstance, which is I am getting married in a few weeks, I am moving internationally, I am working on other productions–that’s a lot of change,” David said. “How can I balance the past, present, and future? How can I balance moving from Wheeling to Hamilton [Ontario].” That’s when the idea for his upcoming David Sings show came–a production of Every Brilliant Thing paired with an art gallery featuring twenty artists, ten from Wheeling and ten from Hamilton.

The promotional materials for David Sings 2022 Musical Theatre Revue. (Photo courtesy of David Widder-Varhegyi).

Every Brilliant Thing is a play about depression and the lengths someone will go to for the ones they love. It has been reviewed in The Guardian by Lyn Gardner as being, “One of the funniest plays you’ll ever see about depression–and possibly one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see.” The piece begins with a young child whose mother is in hospital after an attempted suicide, leading the child to create a list of the things he thought made the world great, an attempt to cheer her up. The story follows the child as he ages and as the list grows longer and longer.

The play is not what most would consider ‘traditional.’ It was written by Macmillan with Donahoe to be a one-man production. And, as David describes it, will see the audience involved from the very beginning. “Contrary to the usual approach of a stage and audience whose worlds don’t collide, there is essentially no audience,” David said of the play. The audience, as much as they are comfortable with, can expect to use their bodies and voices. 

Subscribe to Weelunk

“We can all expect to laugh, and we can all expect to cry,” David said. This is in line with his philosophy of theater–the communal act of gathering to celebrate tragedy and comedy. “That’s why I do this.” David says he wants to create environments where “people come together and have cathartic experiences that help us go back to the mundane of life.” He says his intention is to make the process of working with other people paramount to the production itself. “Theater is collaborative, life is collaborative.”

As David considered the venue, Clientele Art Studio, he realized there should be art on the walls. As an homage to his current home, Wheeling, and his new one, Hamilton, Ontario, David also wanted to involve people from both places. “This is a piece about creating a list of everything brilliant about the world and involves everyone making that list together,” he said of the inspiration for the art gallery accompanying the show. 

Ten artists from Hamilton and ten from Wheeling were asked to interpret the show theme into art, limiting them to the dimensions of a vinyl sleeve. “We are all different, but we are all the same,” David said, adding, “If in the beginning everything came from light then how couldn’t everything be part of that light. The light is the brilliance we all carry.” The gallery is a true companion piece for Every Brilliant Thing, being congruent with the show and other art pieces on display as well. David says it will depict the hegemony in our differences.

While the show contains themes of depression and suicide–the play’s suggested audience is twelve and older–and some of the content may be triggering, David is clear in saying it in no way glorifies these topics. Instead, it recognizes the tragedy of life while also celebrating the beauty of life. “It should remind anyone involved with it that in the midst of the chaos and tragedy, there’s order and comedy,” David said of the play. “In the midst of sorrow there is joy. Oftentimes it is found when we talk to each other.”

Speaking of the show, David wants people to understand he is but the conduit for the vision that Macmillan originally wrote about when creating Every Brilliant Thing. He also wanted to make certain people realize the scale of contribution towards the production, despite it being a one-man play. “This piece is about so much more than David as an actor,” David said. “It’s a communal act–it’s an act of communion that twenty-five people have said ‘we can get behind this vision.’ And that vision came from Macmillan and Donahoe.”

The promotional materials for David Widder-Varhegyi’s upcoming production of Every Brilliant Thing. (Photo courtesy of David Widder-Varhegyi and designed by Brian McCray).

David Sings will premier Every Brilliant Thing, the play and the show, on Friday, June 2, Saturday, June 3, and Sunday, June 4 in Wheeling, at Clientele Art Studio. David will then take the show to Hamilton, Ontario, to premiere on Friday, June 9, Saturday, June 10, and Sunday, June 11, at 541 Eatery & Exchange. The art gallery will also be displayed in both cities–an exciting way for the two communities to collaborate in a unique way. Tickets can be purchased on the show’s Eventbrite page, or day-of at the door.

If you are inspired by the idea of this show, David Widder-Varhegyi is actively seeking donors and sponsors. HoH Share, Inc, has partnered with the production as a fiscal sponsor, and qualified donors can receive a tax incentive. 

• Justice Hudson is an AmeriCorps volunteer and citizen journalist originally from Saint Albans, West Virginia, and has lived in Wheeling since January 2020. He studied history and women and gender studies at West Virginia University and has worked in farming and community education since moving to the Friendly City. In February 2023 he began writing as a folk reporter independently for the Hudson Household Editorial and for organizations including Mustard Seed MountainBlackByGod: The West Virginian, and Weelunk.