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‘Every Brilliant Thing’ returns to Arden, with a handshake

The Arden is bringing "Every Brilliant Thing," which sold out its extended run last fall, back this fall. Director Terrence J. Nolen and star Scott Greer talk about what makes the play work: its personal, democratic approach, making the audience the supporting cast.

Scott Greer in the 2017 production of "Every Brilliant Thing" at the Arden Theatre Company.
Scott Greer in the 2017 production of "Every Brilliant Thing" at the Arden Theatre Company.Read moreAshley Smith/ Wide Eyed Studios

"This is a first for us," says Terrence J. Nolen, cofounder and artistic director of the Arden Theatre. He's referring to Every Brilliant Thing, the Duncan Macmillan/Jonny Donahoe play. The Arden mounted it last fall, featuring Scott Greer. It sold out, was extended, sold out again … so here it is once more, running Nov. 8-Dec. 16, with Nolen directing and Greer starring. "This is the first time we have remounted an adult production immediately following the first year. It's very much a remount — same space, actor, and design team. It'll be exciting to see who returns, and who brings new people to see it."

What makes Every Brilliant Thing brilliant is the way the audience becomes the supporting cast. It's often done in small theaters; I can't think of a play that responds as well to intimacy.  If you go, watch Greer before the show. He's working the audience, greeting every person in the 80-seat Bob and Selma Horan Studio Theatre. "I have 60 cards I pass out and ask people to read aloud from," Greer says, "and this is really a piece of practical casting, seeing who's really not into it, which I want to honor, and who might be too eager, try too hard to be funny." Nolen calls it "a casting session on the run."

Greer has an assistant who scouts out likely audience members and practicalities. "One character has to be sitting on the aisle, so I can sit next to him," Greer says, "and another female character has to be wearing socks. It's crucial. Also, we try to spread the choices out, so no one section of the theater is left out or has too much."

And at the end … Greer shakes hands with all of us. "I was with ComedySportz in the way-back days," he says, "and we started high-fiving people after our audience-participation shows. The idea was that every person should leave feeling like they were a part of it, that they were a hero, because they were." So don't worry — you'll meet the cast.

Greer has a nice way of thinking about this very democratic play: "We're creating a nightly community."