Last weekend in Spring Green, I saw the Ionesco play, Exit the King, an absurdist but moving play about death and mortality. My first night at home, I attended another play with the same theme. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play Everybody is about the death we dread and the reckoning that religion tells us we face as we exit this life. Everybody is Jacobs-Jenkins’ updated version of a hugely successful 15th century morality play, Everyman (the Hamilton of its era).
Brown Paper Box Co. is staging Everybody at the Pride Arts Center’s smaller Buena stage, directed by Erin Shea Brady. Set at some indeterminate present time, the cast of 11 rotates some roles by lottery. At the beginning of each performance, five actors draw roles; one of them plays Everybody and the other four play multiple roles, including all things ephemeral: Strength, Beauty, Mind and Senses. Everybody (played on opening night by Alys Dickerson) knows she has to make a long journey from which she won’t return, but at the end she has to give a presentation on her life and how she lived it. (Will this be in PowerPoint, I wondered?)
And Everybody wonders too. “Still this presentation also seem really involved because it’s like: are you supposed to have this memorized? And you’ve done a terrible job keeping track of your life. And, in your defense, it’s not like anyone told you that you should be paying so much attention to the details of your life! (In fact, you’ve been conditioned by Society and the Media to think that paying too much attention to the details of your life was a sign of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a mental illness, and you’re not mentally ill. You think.) But also how were you even supposed to do this? And starting from when?”
Everybody dreads going on this journey by herself and asks different friends and acquaintances to join her. She asks Friendship, Cousin, Kinship, Stuff, Love and Audience Member, but all have some excuse for staying behind. Death (Kenny the Bearded) runs the lottery and is ever present but not as a brooding, ominous figure. He’s usually kind of a casual, friendly companion—except when he isn’t. “God” doesn’t really tell him everything, he complains. He’s just sort of like an assistant.
The Usher (Chelsea Dàvid, who also plays God and Understanding) appears at the beginning of the play to explain what we’ll be seeing. She also officiates throughout and directs some of the action, including seating latecomers.
Everybody follows the same storyline as its medieval predecessor, with similar characters and actions. Jacobs-Jenkins, who wrote Appropriate, Gloria and An Octoroon, is considered one of today’s leading young playwrights. Everybody is hip and witty and seems a bit interactive and improvisational, although fully scripted.
Credit director Brady and the cast (diverse in age, race, gender and gender identity) with a small theatrical miracle. Because of the lottery, 120 different variations of casting are possible. And every actor has to memorize the entire 70 pages of script. Other cast members are Hal Cosentino, Nora Fox (a 7th grader playing Time and wearing a Woodstock ’69 t-shirt), Hannah Green, Alex Madda, Alexandria Moorman, Francesca Sobrer, Donovan Session and Tyler Anthony Smith.
Brown Paper Box’s staging of Everybody runs about 90 minutes and continues through August 12 at the Buena, 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets are $25 for performances Friday-Sunday.