Longtime OSF actor David Kelly returns to Ashland stage

David Kelly will star in the Rogue Theater Company's production of "Every Brilliant Thing."
October 27, 2022

To star in one-person show ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ at Rogue Theater Company

By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news

David Kelly, who has been delighting audiences for decades at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is returning to Ashland to perform in the Rogue Theater Company’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing” Nov. 30 to Dec. 10 at the Grizzly Peak Winery.

After 28 years at OSF, Kelly, 62, who lives in Ashland, spent the past summer at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis as Mr. Weston and Mr. Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s “Emma.” He is also serving as an understudy for August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” at the Huntington Theatre in Boston.

David Kelly

“Every Brilliant Thing,” a one-person show, will play Nov. 30, Dec. 1-4, and Dec 6-10 at Grizzly Peak Winery, with all performances at 2 p.m. The play is directed by Caroline Shaffer. Tickets, which can be purchased online at roguetheatercompany.com, are $25 for the Nov. 30 preview and $30 for other shows.

The play tells story of a man who, as a 7-year-old, begins writing a list of “every brilliant thing” that makes life worth living after his mother is hospitalized with depression and after considering suicide. Jessica Sage, the Rogue Theater’s artistic director, said the play tackles the serious topics of mental health and depression, but is also filled with humor, joy and hope.

“It’s a very packed hour of experience,” Kelly said of the play, noting it’s the first time he’s performed in a one-person play.

“One big challenge of the play is keeping the energy up as a performer to work directly with the audience. I’m very excited to come home to Ashland to perform ‘Every Brilliant Thing.’ I was last onstage in Ashland in ‘Hairspray’ at OSF. That play closed three years ago this week! This has been a very strange few years, and that last statement amazes me: it feels like it’s gone by so quickly, and at the same time, it feels like a decade ago.

“Ashland has been my home for 31 years and I’m happy to perform there, particularly with Jessica and Rogue Theater Company. Other former OSF company members have had a great time working there. I’m particularly excited to work with Caroline Shaffer, who I have been friends with for more than 30 years. Caroline is a fantastic partner who is offering so many great ideas about sharing this play with a lively Ashland audience.”

Before the curtain speech, Kelly, who serves as the play’s character The Narrator, will hand out numbered slips of paper with text that will be used during the performance.

“We’re all part of this play. The performance is dependent on audience participation,” he said, adding with a touch of humor, “Now, don’t panic, that doesn’t mean you have to memorize lines.”  

He said audience participation is necessary, explaining, “‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is as much a community storytelling event as it is a play. The story relies on the audience to assist the storyteller, standing in for people from his past. The audience participation is a wily way that the playwrights, Donohue and Duncan Macmillan, get the audience to consider their own experience of the themes of the play; it forces them to listen actively.”

“The focus will be on all of us and our experience, not just a play where the audience sits in the dark and watches a performer in a spotlight. It’s very simple and very low-pressure,” he added. “Everyone in the room experiences the story together. Therefore, there are no light cues and the houselights are up the whole show.”

Kelly’s character compiles the “brilliant list in an attempt to make his mother realize that there is much to live for. But,” he notes, The Narrator, however, “finds out that life isn’t that simple and the problems of severe depression are not so easily solved.”

His eagerness to take on the role stems from his association with the play. As he explained, “When I first saw ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ — filmed live in New York by HBO — performed by the co-writer, Johnny Donohue, I was struck by how a story that deals so closely with depression and suicide could be told in such a warm and life-affirming way.

“Because I had already seen the play when Jessica called to offer me the role, I jumped at the chance,” Kelly said. “I have had people close to me deal with depression and suicide, and I know that these are issues that are not talked about, and need to be brought out into the open. It is a play about hope and dealing with challenges that we all are directly and indirectly affected by.”

The role, he admits, offers a new challenge because, “I have never performed a one-person play before, and that has been technically challenging, as all of the scheduling and rehearsal is all on me so far. I look forward to working with Caroline and figuring out the best way to tell the story at the Grizzly Peak Winery.”

After a semi-hiatus, he’s looking forward to being on stage.

“The only live theater I’ve done in the past three years is ‘Emma’ at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. For the COVID times, I have done many readings online and a couple of podcast/radio plays. I am not performing in Boston, but I have an understudy assignment in August Wilson’s ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’ at the Huntington Theatre. It’s exciting to be able to listen and watch this beautiful play, and it takes me back to the stunning production that OSF did in 1993.” 

While Ashland is home, Kelly may be spending more time elsewhere after “Every Brilliant Thing.”

“Because my partner, Terri McMahon, is going to school in Boston, I will be with her as much as possible. It’s been fun to explore New York, Minneapolis and now Boston over this past year. I’m hoping to pursue some theater, television and film work here and in New York. Eventually, I will land back home in Ashland, but for now we’re enjoying the big city adventures.”

Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net.

This article mentions suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

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