On Friday, February 3 the Columbia University Performing Arts League put on a one night only performance of The List in Barnard’s Glicker-Milstein Theater. Editor’s note: Mentions of suicide.

This past Friday, CUPAL put on a production of The List (or, Every Brilliant Thing), a one-person show told from the perspective of a character who struggles to cope with their mother’s repeated suicide attempts. As the character progresses throughout childhood and adulthood, they compose a list of “every brilliant thing” there is about life that makes it worth living. 

The List is an unconventional play. Firstly, the narrator (who goes unnamed) can be played by anybody, no matter their age, gender, or race. It puts a spin on the one-person show medium, as it’s not necessarily a one-person show, but a one-actor show. Throughout the play, the narrator chooses audience members to play certain roles (ex. the father, the girlfriend/wife, and the guidance counselor). 

Keeping in tune with the intention of facilitating audience interaction, twenty chairs were arranged facing each other on the stage. While this was meant to make the production much more collaborative, the layout of the Glicker-Milstein Theater stifled its potential. (Perhaps the Lerner Black Box would have fit the play better.) However, the incorporation of fewer chairs on the stage likely drew a demographic of people who would be more open to being called on. 

The set of The List. 

João Santos (CC ’24) played the singular casted role, delivering a powerful performance as the narrator. He was able to inflict intense emotion on even inanimate objects, such as when he used a coat as a stand-in for his dying dog. Santos was confidently funny and had no trouble interacting with his audience on the fly, remarking to one audience member, “Oh you look like a Star Wars fan!” For a show that’s essentially an entire monologue, Santos also impressed the crowd with his flawless memorization. 

Even the impromptu-chosen audience members stood out, to the point where one wondered whether or not they were deliberately chosen. For example, the audience member playing the dad had a similar British accent to Santos, leading us to wonder if he was actually Santos’s real father. Additionally, the chosen dad put on such a hilarious performance to the point where I was convinced he was a professional actor. Either way, it was a great performance. 

The List is evidently a hard show to perfect. It deals with quite possibly one of the heaviest, most sensitive topics in our present society, suicide, while simultaneously interweaving humorous dialogue. How can you produce this play without coming across as insensitive or off-putting? However, The List’s director Madeleine George (BC ’23) overcame these constraints and put on a magnificent production. Media that is both hilarious and utterly heartbreaking rarely succeeds, thus creating reason for all the more acclaim. George also succeeded in fostering an intimacy out of the venue—the audience left feeling both weighed down and brought together. We had all been changed. 

Setting aside the content of the show, The List is an immensely important production for the world we live in today. It approaches topics such as the dangers of sensationalizing suicides, the dread of generational mental illness, and the effect of suicidal behaviors on loved ones. Apart from being a cautionary tale, the contents of this play aimed to have a positive impact on all its viewers. The narrator’s listing of various “brilliant things” throughout the production not only instills joy in the audience, but inspires the audience to think about their own “brilliant things” as well. 

If you should take anything away from this production, it’s that there is hope when times get tough. We can not only improve ourselves by choosing to view life more optimistically, but we can enrich the lives of those around us by pointing out these mundane, wonderful moments. I can personally vouch for the benefits of the making of a list of brilliant things. I’ve been compiling this list for the past few years, long before I even knew about the play’s existence. It’s not only helped me overcome tough times, but has also provided me with sources of variety when life gets dull. I highly recommend starting to compile your own, personalized list—it might seem unnecessary now, but you’ll be grateful for it in the future. (For a starting point, check out this list compiled from audience members of 17 different productions of Every Brilliant Thing.

The List via Deputy News Editor Emma Burris