By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins; Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.19.17
Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street
by Maria Paz Alegre on 2.20.17
Louis Cancelmi, David Patrick Kelly, Michael Braun, Lakisha Michelle May, Brooke Bloom, Marylouise Burke in Everybody.
Photo by Monique Carboni.
BOTTOM LINE: An affecting and inventive new adaptation of an ancient morality play, filled with biting wit and shrewd commentary on the state of humanity.
Although the concept of judgment and a reckoning in the form of an allegory is an age-old staple of theatre, this new adaptation of the British/Dutch morality play Everyman, now called Everybody, feels startlingly relevant. It's no wonder, considering the political climate which seems to permeate every conversation both inside and outside of the Signature Theater. Similar to his lauded play An Octoroon, based on a 19th-century melodrama, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has breathed life into outdated material, elevating it to modern greatness with beguiling speech and innovative staging.
Take the usher speech, the typical one audiences are given before any production with a reminder to turn off all cellphones. Then add sarcasm, pedagogy and wit while it slowly dawns on the audience that this is no ordinary usher. Make that usher (a radiant Jocelyn Bioh) into God, not a God, but the God, who quickly silences the mocking laughter with eviscerating words of wrath and fury. Enter Death (a hilarious Marylouise Burke), and the Rapture is upon us; it is time for the actions of man, in the form of an Everybody, to be judged.
At the matinee on February 18, 2017, Everybody was played by actor David Patrick Kelly; however, he will not play this role consistently. The characters of Everybody, Friendship, Kinship, Cousinship, Stuff, Senses, Evil Things, Mind, etc. are randomly assigned during each performance. It was announced that the cast had memorized all parts of the play as a wire lottery cage was wheeled onto the stage, complete with a hand crank and white bouncing balls. Instead of winning numbers, the balls were inscribed with the roles that the individual cast members would play, with a stage manager on book should they forget a line during one of the 120 possible variations of the production.
Only one line was called for, as the actors dived headfirst into their newly assigned roles. David Patrick Kelly, the oldest member of the interchanging ensemble, proved to be an acerbic and sardonic Everybody, playing well against Friendship, acted with charm and vivacity by Lakisha Michelle May. In Everybody’s quest to find a companion at Judgment Day, Kinship, Cousinship, and Stuff (played in this performance by Michael Braun, Brooke Bloom and Louis Cancelmi respectively) break down the superficial façade of smalltalk and express their true relationship and devotion to Everybody. Interspersed between these scenes are blackouts filled with voiceovers meant to represent the inner workings of the human consciousness, complete with solipsism and inner turmoil. Throughout the show, one can't help imagining how different actors would play different roles. Would a younger Everybody feel more urgent or less urgent? If there is a male/female dynamic felt between characters, how would the scene change if roles were played by member of the same gender?
Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has a deft touch for contemporary discourse, allowing the dialogue of epic characters to land with humor, poignancy and depth. Supported by a tremendously talented ensemble under the wonderful direction of Lila Neugebauer, Jacobs-Jenkins reminds the audience that there may come a time where their life choices are called into question, and if so, what will they be left with? What will matter in the end? Answers are given (it is a morality play after all), and yet audience members are left to ponder those answers by questioning their own actions and morals long after the play has finished. Everybody is a truly insightful and thought-provoking play which should not be missed.
(Everybody plays at Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street, through March 19, 2017. The running time is ninety minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays though Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $30 through March 12, $40 beginning March 14 and are available at signaturetheatre.org or by calling 212-244-7529.
Everybody is by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, based on Everyman by Anonymous and Elckerlijc by Peter van Diest. Directed by Lila Neugebauer. Choreography is by Raja Feather Kelly. Scenic Design is by Laura Jellinek. Costume Design is by Gabriel Berry. Lighting Design is by Matt Frey. Sound Design and Original Music is by Brandon Wolcott. Production Stage Manager is Amanda Spooner.
The cast is Jocelyn Bioh, Brooke Bloom, Michael Braun, Marylouise Burke, Louis Cancelmi, Lilyana Tiare Cornell, David Patrick Kelly, Lakisha Michelle May, and Chris Perfetti.