9/17/2022 EVERYBODY Alliance Theatre
ALLEGORY OOP, or, I NEVER METAPHOR I DIDN’T LIKE
Say what you will about life. No one gets out of it alive.
Say what you will about death. He/She/They have a wicked sense of humor and an unfortunate sense of timing.
Say what you will about the Medieval Allegorical Play Everyman. It probably was written as a catechism exercise rather than as a blueprint for a real theatrical experience. In fact, Wikipedia tells us [citation required] that there were really no recorded performances of it until the 20th century. In fact, more people have probably seen Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Everybody than have seen the 500+ -year old work upon which it’s based. Although Everystudent of Theatre History knows its name.
And, apropos of nothing, say what you will about reviewing a play that will be different for every audience that sees it. I’ll probably do it anyway, if for no other reason (OCD obsessions aside) than as an exercise in futility.
Everybody is a happy-go-lucky person going about his/her/their business, when Death comes (at God’s command), allowing Everybody a few precious moments to find someone to go along on that final journey. Friendship unfortunately turns out to be a fair-weather friend, Kinship has too much to do, Stuff is fool of nonsense, Five Senses (here called “Cousin”) cannot see beyond what’s visible, and Understanding apparently has none. But Somebody does choose to go when Everybody goes, and I will leave it to Everyyou to discover who when and why.
To underscore the randomness of Death (and, for that matter, Life), Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins requires that Everybody and all the allegorical Somebodies be chosen by lottery for each performance. Which means the actors must learn Five roles for 120 different combinations, meaning 120 possible ensemble structures. And it means a crackerjack tech crew must quickly cue up the right voice-overs and the right slides.
This is not only an acting challenge few of us will ever get to experience, but it will probably end up being an EverySuziJudge challenge for acting honors. Dare I say that “Best Ensemble” will be a shoo-in nomination?
So, what happens on Everybody’s inexorable journey towards the grave? Just another few episodes of life, which, because they are the last episodes of life, are made precious, even if they involve stripping to lingerie, running through the audience, shouting in existential dread, dancing a danse macabre, and finally appreciating the true nature of Life and Love and God and Time maybe even Understanding.
The Alliance has chosen to cast the Five Somebodies (one of whom will be Everybody) with a deliberately diverse quintet, diverse in gender, ethnicity, and age (but apparently not ability). But, as Love was quick to tell us in a post-show discussion, there are NO “Women of Color” in the group of Somebodies, a shortfall compensated for by God, Love, and Time ALL being females of color, and all persistently played by the same actors at every performance (Shakirah Demesier as Love, Deidre Henry as God/Understanding/Usher, young Skyler Ebron as Time). Death is consistently and always (dare I say appropriately?) Andrew Benator.
As the five Somebodies, Brandon Burditt, Chris Kayser, Courtney Patterson, Joseph J. Pendergrast, and Bethany Anne Lind start the show as members of the audience (the set is basically a reduced mirror-image of the Coca-Cola Theatre with audience members sitting on stage/balcony/house with the actors. Until Somebodies are called out by Death. Once the lottery is drawn, costume racks come out and Everybody is off on his/her/their final journey. For the record, Mr. Burditt was Everybody at Saturday afternoon’s performance, Ms. Patterson was a delightful Friendship, and the rest faded into the other roles, which, truth to my age-addled attention span, were somewhat interchangeable. Whyever is “Five Senses” changed to “Cousin” when there is already a “Kindred?”.(Asking for a friend.)
I will confess now that I have never read Everyman, though a dusty old paperback has lived in my library since the Ford administration. I will also confess to finding allegory a bit heavy-handed, especially allegory with religious overtones, and Everyman is a specifically Catholic allegory. But even with that baggage, I found Everybody an exciting experience, a challenging exercise in philosophical dialectic, and, ultimately, a moving celebration of life, especially in the face of Death. Sure the Danse Macabre went on too long, stopping the show dead (ish). So to speak. But I have seen (and admired) most of this cast in other shows, many here at the Alliance, and even call some of them friends [bias alert].
More to the point, I am anxious to see it again, to see how the ensemble changes with a new lottery result, to see how those subtextual interactions vary with different scene partners, and, especially, to see how Everybody changes with a shift in gender or ethnicity or age.
And to be honest, if Everybody is your only exposure to the conceit and structure of Everyman, it deserves to be part of your viewing history, especially if you claim to be a student of theatre and all its extravagantly varied history.
As I do!
Say what you will about Everyreview. Eventually it will end.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #AllianceTheatre #Everybody #Everyhashtag )