Detailed Synopsis (Spoiler alert)
Narrator (who can be played by a person of any gender, but will here, as in the
script, be referred to as “he”) hands out scraps of paper to audience members.
When he calls out numbers, the audience member with the corresponding number is
asked to read out the text on their paper scrap. These numbers refer to the
Narrator’s long, ever-growing list of “every brilliant thing about the world.”
The initial items (from the time the Narrator was seven years old, when he
began compiling the list) include ice cream, water fights, staying up past your
bedtime and being allowed to watch TV, and people falling over. Through
role-playing interaction with the audience, the Narrator evokes his rather tense,
uneasy relationship with his father, centering on a memory of a childhood pet’s
euthanization—his first “experience of death, a loved one, becoming an object.”
Around the same time, the Narrator’s mother attempted suicide; this is event
that inspired the Narrator’s list of “brilliant things”—things large and small
that make life worth living. He left the list, in its early stages, on his
mother’s bed, and though she never mentioned it to him, he knew she had read it
because she corrected his spelling mistakes. When the Narrator was a teenager,
his mother again attempted suicide, and he began to feel anger, or resentment,
toward her. He continued compiling his list, adding new items like “the smell
of old books” and “the even-numbered Star
Trek films,” and “making up after an argument.” He calls for the audience
to read out more of these, numbering up to 999.
When the Narrator left home to attend university, he tucked the list inside a favourite book and “forgot about it” for a time. At university, he felt shy and isolated, but soon became smitten with another student, Sam. Sam, played by an audience member (of any gender), and the Narrator recreate their early interaction. They find that they share much in common, and he loans Sam a book. He forgot, however, that it was the book in which he’d placed the list of brilliant things. When Sam returns the book to the Narrator, he realizes that the list was in there. He is initially embarrassed, but then notices that Sam has added to the list, with items that clearly indicate that (s)he is as enamoured of him as he is of her/him. He then decides to continue the list with new items like “dancing in private,” “dancing in public, fearlessly,” “Christopher Walken’s voice,” and “Christopher Walken’s hair.” He and Sam begin to date, and “spend every second together.” With Sam’s encouragement, the list of brilliant things continues to grow—now numbering in the hundreds of thousands! Sam proposes to the Narrator, and he accepts. Initially, they are very happy together, but after moving to London and starting new jobs, they begin to see less of each other. They argue about money, where they should live, whether to start a family, and other such things. Sam recommends that the Narrator speak to a therapist, suggesting that he may be struggling with depression. He is angry at this suggestion, given his association of depression with his mother’s repeated suicide attempts. Sam urges him, in any case, to keep adding to his list; but he stops “one hundred and seventy-three thousand and twenty-two short of a million.” The Narrator and Sam separate. He finds a note from Sam saying that (s)he loves him, and when he is “ready,” they “should try again.” The Narrator decides to attend group counselling, and he reluctantly tells the other participants about his list and his difficult childhood experiences. Later, when the Narrator is away working in Australia, his mother commits suicide. He returns home for the funeral, and realizes how much making the list of brilliant things has coloured the way he sees the world, and helps him appreciate small pleasures—although they were not enough for his mother. Sam texts him to offer condolences, and (s)he suggests that the Narrator give her/him a call sometime. Following the funeral, he stays for a time with his father. While there, he adds to, and finally completes, the list, and leaves it for his father to see before departing for London. A few weeks later, they speak on the phone, and his father thanks him for the list and tells him that he loves him. The Narrator asks audience members to read the penultimate entries on the list, before he finally reads the millionth item: “Listening to a record for the first time. Turning it over in your hands, placing it on the deck and putting the needle down, hearing the faint hiss and crackle of the sharp metal point on the wax before the music begins, then sitting and listening while reading through the sleeve notes.” A jazz song plays, as the narrator shakes hands with, or hugs, the audience members who have played roles in his life story.