12/18/2014 11:13 am ET Updated Feb 17, 2015

Every Brilliant Thing at the Barrow Street Theater

Jonny Donahoe walks around the theater dropping notes on the audience members' laps as you are seated for Every Brilliant Thing. "Oh, you are the star, right?" observed a man picking up his paper. "I am the play," Donahoe said. Well, not quite. I hope it is not revealing too much to say that his supporting cast is you, if you are adventurous enough to attend this brisk hour of an uplifting, funny play on a potentially grim subject. Author of this engaging night of theater with Duncan Macmillan, Donahoe treats the delicate subject of a suicidal mother and a son's attempts to cheer her into life by listing as many brilliant things as can be imagined.

In that endeavor, he enlists the audience to chime in: on opening night, I was 999, 997, "The Alphabet." But Donahoe also gets help from the audience in more elaborate speaking roles. I had to wonder, was it kismet that he got Doubt playwright John Patrick Shanley to be his father, a Freudian coup, to say the least. Or this year's IT girl, Gugu Mbatha-Raw -- so gorgeous in the last year's movie Belle -- to play the woman he not only flirts with, but gets to be his wife. Dressed down, she bats her eyes, enjoying his attention. Shanley delivers a toast at the wedding, in which he gamely improvises: I hope this works out, but if this doesn't, "you are on your own."

The audience is not sure if that means the fictive marriage, or the play itself. With several such moments, including calling on Julie Halston as part of an older couple -- she added some hilarity casting her large eyes around the Barrow's intimate space to see who he was calling on -- "the play is different every night," said the director George Perrin. At the opening, the audience included It's Only a Play playwright Terrence McNally and comedian David Steinberg. Just think of the possibilities.

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