It seems like Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Everybody is the play of the year. Theater people will know what I’m talking about–if you are in that world, every year, there’s some play that everyone you know is doing. Last year, it was The Wolves, Men in Boats, and, oddly enough, The Seagull. Nobody seems to know why this happens, although some plays are obvious choices. This one, for example, has a deeply flexible cast in terms of size, gender, race, basically everything. You could do it with seven people or twenty. This makes it great for college theaters, where you never know who might show up for auditions.
Everybody is a retelling of Everyman, but very modern, asking some interesting questions about race, gender, love, and purpose. Most of the roles are drawn by lottery twenty minutes into the show. So who is going to play “Everybody,” as well as Everybody’s friends, stuff, love, family, etc., is drawn randomly each night. This is the subject of some controversy in various productions–some of them fake the draw, while others go for it with deep commitment. I’m not going to say which they did at Albright College, but … anyway, that’s a thing.
I went to see this production because Robin was in it, and I always love seeing her onstage (and I happened to have a night off, just an hour away from Albright). She played the Usher/God, which is a sizable role, but not a super fun one, compared to, say “Stuff,” or “Love.” The Usher has a solid 20 minutes of solo stage time, though, and I loved Robin’s commitment and energy to keep it rolling. She was a good choice for that role–she’s one of the hardest-working young actors I know, and you need that to get through that massive solo section. She also did a masterful job of seamlessly incorporating the sections of the medieval Everyman text that are sprinkled through this play. Shifting from one register to another can be tricky for young actors, but she moved straight through it. Another role would have given her opportunity to show off what I think is her most special and unusual quality, which is her physical fearlessness. She’ll try anything and never seems to worry that she might look silly (this is, of course, the only secret to not looking silly). Because of her “type,” she might not get cast in roles that give her the chance to play in that space enough.
This production was student-directed. I am forever grateful for the many chances I had to direct in my undergrad, and I’m glad to see schools giving young directors access and support to develop their work. Director Joey Love made some strong and creative choices. I appreciated his strong sense of story and a clear directorial vision. The ensemble was deeply connected and seemed comfortable with each other, the space, and the text. One of the hardest things to learn as a young director working with peers is how to lead and also collaborate. It was clear from the show itself and from what Robin told me about it afterward that he was great at inviting collaboration and saying “yes AND” to his actors.
The young woman who played Everybody was fantastic. The show must have taken a great deal of stamina for her–she virtually never left the stage. She entered fully into each of the relationships Everybody has from one scene to the next. One choice I was not a fan of was that her monologues were prerecorded and she stood onstage while they played. I felt like it gave her a difficult acting challenge. I don’t think the script particularly calls for that; those were the only moments in the play where I felt fidgety or disengaged.
The play distills most of what is fun about Everyman and leaves behind the boring bits. The ensemble clearly had a great time dressing in fun costumes to personify the different things that Everybody asks to come along on her journey to Death. It’s a fun play. I don’t love the script–the writing just didn’t hit my text nerd heart where it lives. But I am curious to see it again, as I understand that it has lots of space for companies to make different choices. Seeing another production of it would show me where this one made choices, and what the other opportunities are.