By Heather Rosen
Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) is known for presenting classic theatre productions in an accessible and often modern way, and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play, “Everybody”, under the masterful direction of Will Davis, does exactly that. Everybody is an adaptation of a 15th century play called “Everyman” that itself is based on a much older play and a Buddhist fable. It is considered a “mortality play” – one that aims to make the audience reflect on their own life and their mortality, and this play brilliantly tells the story in a way that is both modern, entertaining, and very accessible.
The show opens with the Usher, played by Yonatan Gebeyehu, calling the audience to attention. He then spent what seemed like 10-15 minutes lecturing the audience about turning cell phones completely off and putting away other things that may make noise during the show. As disruptive as cell phones and candy wrappers are, I felt that a little too much time was spent on this topic, although he did it in a humorous way and perhaps this was the only way to ensure that they had our full attention. Then, after sharing the fascinating history of the play, Gebeyehu transformed into the character “God”, who proceeds to summon “Death”, played by Nancy Robinette, to bring him some people living on Earth (the “Somebodies”). It is implied that when the Somebodies meet God, they will die, but one of them asks Death whether they can return to Earth after meeting God, and sounding much like a company manager following her director’s orders, Death replies that she doesn’t know for sure but she will try to find out.
There seems to be no relationship between the Somebodies, and each of them is surprised to be dying. They beg and try to bribe Death to let them go back home. But there is no going back and Death informs them that they will be asked to make a presentation to God in defense of their lives. The Somebodies worry that they won’t be able to remember all of their good deeds and they ask Death for permission to bring someone along who can help them. Death grants them a little bit of time to search for a helper, and the rest of the show centers on the search of one of them, named “Everybody”. We wait to find out who or what (because some of the characters are things or qualities instead of people) will be willing and able to accompany Everybody to their presentation to God - and to the grave?
Several of the actors play multiple characters, and one of the unique things about this show is that 5 of the actors do not know which characters they will be playing until the beginning of the show when they each draw names. As the result, each show is different as each actor brings their own flavor to the characters (also most actors play multiple roles) so much like life itself, you never know what to expect next, even if you’ve seen the show before. There is also a fun little contest STC runs at the beginning of the show – there is an iPad located near the entrance to the theatre where you can register your guesses of who will play each character. If you guess correctly, you win a ticket to any upcoming STC production in the current season.
In our show, Alina Collins Maldonado played Kinship/Strength/All the Shitty Evil Things, Kelli Simpkins played Stuff/Senses, Ayana Workman played Cousin/Mind, Elan Zafir played Friendship/Beauty, and Avi Roque played the main character, “Everybody”. There are 4 other actors who always play the same role(s) – Gebeyahu, who plays Usher, God and also Understanding, Ahmad Kamal who plays Love, Nancy Robinette (Death), and 9 year old Clare Carys O’Connell who plays Girl and Time. The acting was fantastic all around, and it would be fun to see this again, with Maldonado, Simpkins, Workman, Zafir and Roque in different roles. In particular, the character “Everybody” is very physical and has a lot of lines so it’s truly amazing that each of the actors can perform this role (along with all of the other roles.) And although Roque was very convincing in the role, according to the poster in the lobby, all of the other 4 rotating actors have already played this role. I also thought that the casting was brilliant - people of all genders, ages, shapes, sizes, and ethnicities are represented on stage in interchangeable roles, which is not only refreshing, but I think this helps more of the audience see themselves in the characters and consider how the show’s message might apply to their own lives.
Even the sets and the lighting were unique. Scenic Designer Arnulfo Maldnado used a white, simple background and minimal props – balloons – throughout most of the show but made dramatic use of lighting and shadow effects to indicate the time, place and mood of each scene. Also, the simplicity of the set at the beginning of the show makes the set at the end of the show that much more thrilling.
This show is definitely worth seeing once, if not twice or three times, as each time will be a different experience. There was only one slow moment in the show –when Everybody is running back and forth across the stage for a good 3-4 minutes. Otherwise, this show is equal parts thought provoking, funny and full of surprises.
Image Credit: DJ Corey
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.