Everybody is a modern adaptation of a 15th-century morality play, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. The current production at PlayMakers Repertory Company, directed by Orlando Pabotoy, challenges the audience as much as it does its performers. Fortunately, the audience receives a primer from a smiling usher (played by a very affable Kathryn Hunter-Williams) that provides some background of this allegorical tale, which sets the tone for this surreal rendition of the journey toward death.
Each night, a lottery determines which actor will assume the title role (spoiler alert: to die that evening), as well as the assignments for most of the other characters. This innovative concept requires an immense commitment by all the actors since each must memorize almost the entire script — akin to being the understudy for every role! For the audience, the selection process underscores one of the major messages of the play: the randomness of death.
For our evening performance, Anthony August drew the number to play the role of Everybody. He conveyed the right mixture of spiritual anxiety grounded in a roller coaster of emotions, as he wrestled with some big questions when confronted with his fate. His interactions with the actors representing Friendship, Kinship, and Stuff are both funny and heartbreaking, as each chooses not to accompany him on his journey into the hereafter. At our performance, Dan Toot as Stuff was particularly outstanding in his seductive, narcissistic posturing.
David Adamson as Death, God’s weary and beleaguered messenger, offers an engaging and lively portrait of this figure. While piercing the air with foot-long fingernails, this Death wields his theatrical power with flair. God’s all-knowing demeanor and dissatisfaction with the lack of humanity by most humans are well embodied by Hunter-Williams. And her empathetic turn as Understanding truly shows off the range of her talent.
What happens over the course of ninety minutes is an intellectually and visually captivating theatrical experience (thanks to some fabulous lighting magic conjured by Cha See) that sometimes meanders in its existential journey, but continuously offers a spirited examination of the things we think are important in life. Most of us are too busy to confront our own mortality unless forced to by circumstances, but Everybody presents a compelling argument that maybe we should be thinking about it.