Shakespeare Theatre Company opens their 2019-2020 season with a magnificent spectacle of theatrics and drama in the new play “Everybody” by local playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, based on a 15th century morality play about death.
… a stunning example of the power of live theatre to draw us in, shake us up, and send us home differently than we arrived.
Did I lose you at 15th century? Or death? Morality? Don’t be alarmed. Or, maybe you should be, since death is coming for us all – and what does that really mean? “Everybody” might unsettle you, make you think, make you worry, or inspire you to make some changes in your life before Death comes calling – but it won’t make you regret your night at the theatre because this gorgeous and unique production is vibrating with life.
I felt engaged with the play in a way that transcends the normal theatrical viewing experience. Rather than being passive recipients of a story presented for our amusement, the Lansburgh Theatre was practically crackling with the audience’s emotional investment in the unfolding psychological horror. There was a moment towards the end of the play that summed the experience up best, when Love (of all characters) takes the stage but things get, well, eerie.
The stark, chilling set by Arnulfo Maldonado pairs exquisitely with the unexpected lighting by Barbara Samuels and the ominous sound design by Brendan Aanes and forces the audience into the realization that we are watching something spectacularly live that simply could not move us in equal measure on a film or television screen. It’s a fantastic irony (or synchronicity, perhaps) that a play about death brings out the power of live theatre more strongly than most other shows I’ve seen.
A strange but powerful element of the play is that five of the cast members’ roles are determined by live lottery on stage at each performance. Does that add to the spiritual energy floating throughout the theatre? I’m sure it does. Honestly, I would love to return for several more performances to watch different castings play out because the comparison of nuances and energies that different actors bring in different combinations of roles would be fascinating to observe.
On Opening Night, Avi Roque was cast as Everybody and did a phenomenal job bringing us on their angst-filled journey as they grappled with Death (Nancy Robinette), Friendship (Elan Zafir), Kinship (Alina Collins Maldonado), Cousin (Ayana Workman), Stuff (Kelli Simpkins), Love (Ahmad Kamal), Understanding (Yonatan Gebeyehu), and Time (Clare Carys O’Connell). While each actor was excellent, Kelli Simpkins as “Stuff” definitely got the biggest applause of the night after her interaction with Everybody.
I highly recommend “Everybody” at Shakespeare Theatre Company, directed by Will Davis, as a stunning example of the power of live theatre to draw us in, shake us up, and send us home differently than we arrived.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission
Advisory: Due to the philosophical nature of this production, it is probably best suited to high school age and above; however, there is nothing thematically inappropriate for mature elementary or middle school students. As the play is explicitly about death, it is not recommended for very young audiences.
“Everybody” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is playing through November 17, 2019, at Shakespeare Theatre Company. For more information, click here.