In Play Reviews

What does everybody fear most?

Why, death, of course. Women may fear childbirth. There is something near-death-like about it. But death? Death happens to everybody. Which is why some may find Branden Jacobs-Jenkins‘s play Everybody a bit disquieting.  Everybody, now playing at Artists Repertory Theatre, is a play about death.

Barbie Wu assigns roles to the cast in Everybody at Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo by David Kinder.

The play opens with the Usher (Sarah Lucht). The audience hears a lecture from her, and then another lecture from God (also Sarah Lucht), before Death (Ted Rooney) takes to  the stage looking for fresh meat.

Then things get quirky. The cast includes five Somebodies–Sara Hennessy, Michael Mendelson, John San Nicholas, Andrea Vernae, and Barbie Wu. For each performance, the Somebodies draw their parts for the roles of Everybody, Friendship, and the other characters Everybody invites to join him on his journey. The Somebodies play different roles in each performance, for a total of more than 100 different combinations. They memorize five roles instead of one. But this means each performance is different, influenced by whomever is playing which role at the time. Rounding out the cast are Falynn Burton as Love, Eva Rodriguez as Girl/Time, and Alex Blesi as All the Shitty Evil Things.

The performance I attended, Michael Mendelson played Everybody–by far the most demanding of the five interchangeable roles. Everybody tries to bargain with Death, then searches for someone to accompany him on his terminal journey. Myth and allegory play major roles in the modernization of the 15th century morality play, Everyman. Yet Everybody builds emotional dimension with Jacob-Jenkins’s astute yet colloquial writing, its superb cast, and excellent co-direction from Jessica Wallenfels and Damaso Rodriguez. Scenic design by Tim Stapleton, costumes by Bobby Brewer-Wallin, lighting by Kristeen Willis Crosser, sound by Phil Johnson, and props, puppet design and fabrication by Robert Amico solidify the play.

Ted Rooney as Death instructs the Sombodies–John San Nicholas, Andrea Vernae, Barbie Wu, Michael Mendelson, and Sara Hennessy in Everybody. Photo by David Kinder.

It is no spoiler to say that Everybody dies. The point of Everybody and  Everyman is that end-of-life reckoning, of seeing where we have been and what we have done. This is not unlike the journey of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Christmas Ghosts in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Ho, ho, ho, everyone.

While very different from Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon, staged by Artists Rep last season, Everybody bears similarities. Both plays are adapted from old, mostly forgotten works and are infused with new life by the playwright to give us a better understanding of our current milieu. Everybody is the second of this young playwright’s works to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and there is little doubt that in time he will  earn one.

Everybody runs through December 30 at Artists Repertory Theatre.

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