Everybody Review

1 November 2021
By Madeline Goldberg and Octavia Washington
Cast of Everybody
From left to right: Bahar Tas, Mike Kombate, Will Josowitz, and Hannah Sheridan as Mind, Beauty, Senses, and Strength.

At Everybody, the play begins before you think it does. While the Usher makes (passive-aggressive) announcements about silencing your phone, you may wonder if his instructions are part of the performance; by the time he’s telling you about Buddhism, it becomes clear that Everybody, as a theatrical experience, started some time ago. When, precisely, is unclear, but in many ways that’s the point. Everybody wants you unsure, because its subject is life itself, and there are few things less certain than life or its purpose.

Everybody is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ 2018 Pulitzer Prize-nominated adaptation of the fifteenth-century morality play Everyman. In his reworking, the titular Everybody (Bryn Brittani) has a dream that they must, at Death’s behest, give a presentation to God accounting for all of their choices. Tonushree Chowdhury’s version of Death delivers this news to Everybody in a manner more campy than scary, and is in an almost buddy cop-esque relationship with God. As Everybody makes their way between family, friends, and their own possessions, desperately searching for someone or something to take with them to the other side, it slowly becomes clear that they will be making this trip alone. Friendship (Emma Burke), who has a long speech which hits all the typical bases you would expect from a flaky friend, refuses to come. Kinship (Will Josowitz) pulls a little girl out from the audience in an effort to get out of the commitment, and Cousin (Mike Kombate) tells Everybody to get over themself. (Favorite line, delivered by Cousin as they rolled off stage on a scooter: “life is like… wooow”). And even Everybody’s own Stuff (Bahar Tas) insists, “I don’t belong to you!” When Everybody finally crosses to the other side (and not entirely alone), the play ends. We are not privy to any more story, but why would we be? Everybody is a 90 minute, no-intermission, no-holds-barred look at life’s tough lessons, but it refuses to speculate for us about the great beyond.  

In Everybody, life is arbitrary; so too is theater. “It symbolizes the randomness of death, blah, blah, blah,” explains Jacob Dyck as the Usher, pulling a lottery cart centerstage and assigning each actor their role for the night. Everybody is an adaptation of an ancient story, and its old bones are given new life on the Weitz stage. The performance moves along at such a clip, and plays with the audience’s expectations so masterfully, that it never feels dusty. The placement of actors among the audience is especially effective at creating suspense and tension, blurring the lines between us and them, and while the fourth wall is not nonexistent, it is often hard to place. This performance feels lively and modern right up until the modern world actually makes its way onto the stage. Friendship’s hat, decorated with the Facebook ‘F,’ is a little on the nose, but the really jarring moments are the non-dream conversations, which we overhear in blackouts. Whenever the narrative switches back to Everybody, awake and on their deathbed, their friends are arguing over the (allegedly) racialized language Everybody has been using in their subconscious. Their interludes interrupt the flow and pace of the more compelling dream narrative, and their complaints don’t seem founded on anything, given the random casting; “white fragility” is thrown around, but without a target, it seems to exist simply as a buzzword.

Carleton’s version of Everybody, as directed by Andrew Carlson and Collin Preves, firmly believes that human life is only what you make of it, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself simply receiving notebooks as gifts (a line which is delivered in unison by the Somebodys) and shoving them, unused, in a drawer, over and over and over again. The directors believe that Everybody has a contemporary vision, one which speaks specifically to the Carleton community. In form, Everybody is dynamic, and in theme it is eternal; that combination ensures that, as long as a production is willing to take risks, their performance will always speak to the present moment in radical ways. Under Carlson and Preves’ inspired direction, the Carleton Players combine the intellectual and experimental, actualizing the liberal arts education for an audience of college students at the beginning of the rest of their lives.  

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