Theater Review: Mediocre Script Driven by Cheerful Actors in Alliance’s ‘Everybody’
The Alliance Theater presents Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Everybody,” a jazzed-up version of the 15th-century morality play “Everyman,” which runs until October 2. The play is co-directed by Susan Booth, the Alliance’s late artistic director. , and Tinashe Kajese-Bolden.
“Everybody” is the final production of Booth, who led the Alliance for 21 years, guiding the theater company to a Tony Award and staging many great plays (“August: Osage County” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are the first that come to mind). Booth takes on the artistic direction of Chicago’s famed Goodman Theare, and our loss is definitely their gain.
As the bard said, the game is the thing; and we now turn to “Everybody”, which was originally written in Middle English (translated as “Everyman”) and has no record of having been performed for 500 years – until 1901. This alone fact would certainly seem to give pause before attempting a production.
However, that didn’t stop playwright Jacobs-Jenkins from attempting “a modern riff”, to use his phrase. And he did, creating an Off-Broadway production called “Everybody,” which aired briefly in 2017. It was even a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize. I loved his piece “Appropriate.” , staged by Actor’s Express a few years ago.
The happy theme of “Everyman” and “Everybody” was perfectly expressed by the character of Olympia Dukakis in the film “Moonstruck”, in a line addressed to her husband Cosmo: “I just want you to know whatever you are doing, you’ll die, like everyone else.
The central issue of the morality play is the salvation of human beings and their struggle to avoid sin and damnation and gain freedom and salvation in the next world. It’s a kind of dramatized sermon designed to teach a moral lesson. And the use of allegory (giving physical representation to abstract ideas or values) was a common device. Thus, each character not only represents a certain quality; he or she is this quality.
The morality of “everyone” is explicitly Catholic, which was the dominant sect of European Christianity in the 15e Century. In the program notes, Jacobs-Jenkins said he “removed all mention of repentance and confession from the script” to make “Everyman” modern. I disagree with that statement: it’s all there, in the subtext, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to discern it.
As so often happens with mediocre scripts, we depend on the talent and magnetism of the actors to give us a good time; and this is the case with “Everyone”. We’ve got several of Atlanta’s best actors to cheer us up and show us how to live happily while we’re alive. That’s their job, anyway.
Oh, the biggest “riff” of the night is that every night there is a lottery on stage to decide who among the “Somebodys” will play “Everybody”. So, multiple cast members must have memorized the entire piece. The night I saw the show, a radiant and resourceful Courtney Patterson played Everybody.
A few actors are given fixed roles: “Death”, Andrew Benator; “Love”, Shakirah Demesier; “Girl/Time”, Skylar Ebron; and “Usher/God/Understanding,” Diedrie Henry. Other Somebodies (who could become Everybody by luck of the draw!) include Chris Kayser, Bethany Anne Lind, Joseph J. Pendergrast, Brandon Burditt, and the aforementioned Patterson.
There are plenty of inventive hijinks provided by set and costume designer Lex Liang; Thom Weaver, lighting designer; and Milton Cordero, production design. And spectators are given neon necklaces to wear (if they wish); Not sure what symbolism is being targeted here – oh yeah, have fun while you’re alive. And have fun seeing this room; I’m sure it’s possible.
For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.