By Lynn Venhaus
With his childlike wonder, boundless energy, warm smile, and ability to never know a stranger, Will Bonfiglio uses his talent for good in the uplifting one-person show, “Every Brilliant Thing,” now playing at the New Jewish Theatre.

Running one tidy hour, this humorous and touching personal reflection on life and loss can be interpreted many ways.

What started as a performance piece and installation art project around a decade ago grew into a Facebook group where people listed their own “brilliant things,” and productions have been mounted all over the U.S.

The one-act play was first produced in England, at the 2013 Ludlum Fringe Festival, and started out as a short story called “Sleevenotes” by Duncan McMillan. For the stage, he involved comedian Jonny Donahue, who was filmed for the 2016 HBO presentation.

Bonfiglio plays Sam, the adult son of a mother whose chronic depression altered his emotional development and life perspective.

What do you do when you are six years old, and your mother is in the hospital for attempting suicide? The lead character started a list of everything beautiful and wondrous about the world. He/she left it on their mother’s pillow. And thus, began life-long list-making giving us hope about what makes life worth living.

In this production, Bonfiglio engages by relating the challenges of life. Through the identifiable list, he finds light amid depression’s darkness.

  1. Ice cream.  2. Water fights 3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.  4. The color yellow

The list is as broad as 11. Bed and 1006. Surprises, and as specific as 2390. People who can’t sing but either don’t know or don’t care, and 1654. Christopher Walken’s voice.

The list eventually grew to a million, with entries as clever as 123321. Palindromes, as funny as 7. People falling over, as adorable as 575. Piglets, as pleasurable as 9997. Being cooked for, and as nostalgic as 315. The smell of an old book.

That list turned into a lifeline during adolescence, college, marriage, and bumpy roads, eventually leading to peace and acceptance.

Bonfiglio plays Sam as vulnerable yet strong, resonating as someone who feels helpless when they can’t protect, control, or prevent family members from harm.

He has re-teamed with director Ellie Schwetye after working on “Fully Committed” in 2019, which earned him his third St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Leading Performer in a Comedy, Male or Nonbinary Role. He previously won for “Buyer and Cellar” and “Red Scare on Sunset,” both at Stray Dog Theatre.

They have both worked together in SATE (Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble), where Schwetye is a producer, and ERA (Equally Represented Arts)., among other companies.

They are both expert collaborators. In this project, their ability to focus on joy through communal storytelling and create community reaffirms the power of theater.

 Essential elements include audience interaction and participation, which makes the show unpredictable and improvisational. Bonfiglio tells a few people what to say and where to move in a charming way, while others just are called on to read a lead entry. (If you do not want to participate, no one will force you).

Schwetye keeps Bonfiglio on the move to all corners of the stage.

The technical elements are also superb, with Bess Moynihan’s outstanding lighting design and scenery work with the list items hanging in different hand-written notes making the message simple yet profound.

Schwetye is also an award-winning sound designer, and because of her expertise selecting music, that helps make the music influential to the people in the story.

This play is more than a litany of favorite things, but a journey through turning points in life, which makes it special.

One of its life-affirming aspects is to not wait for moments, but let them in and be open to them.

Bonfiglio never feels less than real. And his kindness projects an openness to the event, for the hardest things to talk about are things we should talk about – and this play allows us to, for catharsis can come out of crushing sadness. Sam has earned this accomplishment.

There is information about mental health in the program, and this team knows of its importance. This production touches our lives in an interesting way — complex, but manifests beauty.

It is that understanding that you feel. And I am grateful.

The New Jewish Theatre presents “Every Brilliant Thing” March 16 – April 2 at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, Tickets are available by phone at 314-442-3283 or online at

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