Everybody – existential play about death, emotions, family, and friends – until Oct 8, 2022 (Shaw Festival)
DEATH. We all know how the story ends. But who will be with us when it does? Why is it these plays about death always only ever wind up trying to tell us about life? Make your way to this year’s Shaw Festival to catch the Canadian premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins modern morality (mortality) play Everybody to find out.
Everybody is a modern adaptation of the fifteenth-century morality play Everyman, one of the first recorded plays in the English language, and only one of the five surviving medieval texts later categorized as morality plays. The others are The Pride of Life, Thee Castle of Perseverance, Wisdom and Mankind.
Jacobs-Jenkins first adapted as a play that premiered on Broadway, February 21, 2017. Though anonymous, the medieval play was originally written in Dutch, and based on a Buddhist parable. It has a simple plot: Death comes to Everybody. Time is up. But When? Everybody asks, can I bring someone to keep me company? Sure, if anyone will come. So then, the question is, who will stay with Everybody to the end? Beauty? Family? Stuff?
Some people in this play don’t play humans, but rather personified qualities and emotions Friendship, Cousin, Kinship, Strength, Beauty, Mind and Senses. Eventually, Love, Understanding, Time and Evil will join them as Everybody progresses inexorably toward their fate – which is death. The cast of actors is comprised of a diverse in age, gender, and racial and ethnic identities, so in reality Everybody really could be Somebody. The medieval text has also be updated with millennial vocabulary and speech patterns.
In typical fashion, an “usher: enters prior to the start of the play to advise people of the required rituals when attending a live performance – length of performance, emergency exits, cell phones off, etc. It then continues to no unwrapping of candy, shuffling through handbags, and other exaggerated no-nos, as we soon realize although dressed as all other “ushers”, this individual is actually part of the cast, and the play has started. Such randomness continues as one audience member is asked to volunteer to draw numbers to determine who from the cast will play the lead in this particular performance (see side note below). As well, several of the actors are planted within the audience only to be called up as the play continues. So don’t be surprised if you’re sitting beside one of them.
The Jackie Maxwell Theatre is quite intimate, and the set up for this production is round circle, meaning there’s not a bad seat in the house, as the stage can be viewed from all four sides. It’s also a simplistic stage set up, with the focus more on the dialogue than the decor. With the possibility of the lead of Everybody being different for each show, it makes the production even more gender-neutral and fluid in sexuality, in particular when interacting with Love, who could be male or female presenting.
This is a production that makes the audience think, and question, not only life, but the inevitable end of it as well. As we all know death becomes all of us, and it’s the one thing in life that for the most part the majority of us have no control over when it happens. There are exceptions to this rule. Once Everybody is summoned to the darker (or lighter) side of life, they are offered to opportunity to bring somebody. The audience follows along as emotions and animated tangibles are toyed with, leaving us with lingering thoughts on what is life all about, and is death a natural progression or extension.
The take away from it all is – Do better, it urges us. Be kinder. Listen more and take less.
Side Note: The actor(s) who plays Everyone, as well as the various characters encountered throughout the show, are chosen by lottery at each performance in front of the audience. You can see the show multiple times and have a different person playing these roles each time, which also means the cast must know every line in the play. This is done in an attempt to more closely theme the randomness of death, while also destabilizing your preconceived notions about identity
For those in Toronto, getting to the Shaw can be done quite easily by bus. Shaw Express picks up in front of the Royal York Hotel. Runs sporatically, so check the calendar for dates. Also, it returns at 5pm so this only allows for matinee performances, unless you plan to stay overnight and return on the next schedule bus departure. The bus makes a stop in Burlington on both directions, and there’s also VIA Rail and Go Transit into Niagara Falls, but then you’d have to make your way to Niagara-On-The-Lake on your own.
Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
June 8 – October 8, 2022
Approximate run time 1 hour and 40 minutes (No Intermission)
View the program here.
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About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.