Everybody Has to Die but Nobody Wants to Make This Journey Alone
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Theatre Gym, 114 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23220
Performances: June 2-19, 2022
Ticket Prices: $40
Info: (804) 282-2620 or https://tickets.va-rep.org/events
EVERYBODY is a modern play about an age-old problem: death. Written by award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, it is a morality play based – with few significant changes – on a 15th century morality play, Everyman, believed to be one of the earliest recorded plays in the English language. Set in the here and now, EVERYBODYhas been revamped to reflect today’s politics, belief systems, and world views and to be inclusive of current racial, religious, and gender concerns.
The morality play is a once-popular genre designed to teach a lesson – in this case, how to live better and be a better person in general – and features characters who are personifications of abstract qualities. In EVERYBODY the original qualities of Fellowship, Kindred, Goods, Discretion, Five Wits, and Knowledge have been rebranded as Friendship, Kinship, Stuff, Mind, Five Senses, and Understanding. With a few exceptions, the stellar cast of talented actors (Debra Wagoner, Jacqueline Jones, Audra Honaker, Jamar Jones, Katrinah Carol Lewis, Maggie Roop, Tyer Stevens, Desirée Dabney, alternate Tatjana Shields, and supporting actors Keeley Maddux and Charlotte Hall) must memorize the entire play, because at each performance the roles are chosen by lottery at the start of the play. Among the fixed roles, Wagoner appears as the Usher, God, and Understanding, Jacqueline Jones plays Death, and Dabney is Love.
With Debra Wagoner providing much of the narration, actors emerging from the audience and entering and exiting from the center aisle, and projected titles, there is a sense of controlled chaos – an appropriate response, one might concede, to the unexpected summoning of God and the unwelcome appearance of Death. God has summoned Death to bring Everybody for an accounting. But since it’s today, the accounting takes the form of a final presentation – you know, like a PowerPoint presentation. Feeling unprepared, Everybody negotiates for more time, and goes looking for someone willing to accompany them on this journey. Friendship and Kinship are the first to excuse themselves, providing a list of reasons ranging from the valid to the humorous. Even Stuff, decked out in a poncho-like garment covered with, well, a collection of stuff, makes a fast exit, while Mind and the Five Senses initially promise to accompany Everybody to the grave but both flake out at the last minute. In the end, it is only Love who completes the journey with Everybody – but only after making them strip down and perform a humiliating act of contrition (involving the repetition of the confession, “my body is just meat”).
EVERYBODY is performed on a nearly bare black stage, with minimal props and costumes, and disconcerting voice over scenes that occur in complete blackness. It is a play of universal themes leading to an inevitable conclusion, performed in earnestness by a fully committed cast. I particularly enjoyed the simultaneously funny and terrifying Skeleton Dance and there is no denying that Debra Wagoner and Jacqueline Jones fully inhabited their roles However, much like Zombie Life (Firehouse, August 2021, https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/08/26/the-zombie-life/) which I heard more than once actor compare to EVERYBODY, I can only admire it from a detached distance; it just isn’t my cup of tea. But if well-crafted existentialism and humor-infused treatises on the meaning of life excite you, you can – and should – see EVERYBODY through June 19.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Rusty Wilson
Usher/God/Understanding Debra Wagoner
Death Jacqueline Jones
Somebody Audra Honaker
Somebody Jamar Jones
Somebody Katrinah Carol Lewis
Somebody Maggie Roop
Somebody Tyler Stevens
Somebody alternate Tatjana Shields
Girl/Time Keeley Maddux
Girl/Time Charlotte Hall
Love Desirée Dabney
Voice-Over Artists Juliana Caycedo
Anne Michelle Forbes
Director Rusty Wilson
Assistant Director Tim Glover
Scenic Designer Emily Hake Massie
Costume Designer Sarah Grady
Lighting Designer Alleigh Scantling
Properties Designer Ellie Wilder
Scenic Charge Emily Hake Massie
Sound Designer Joey Luck
Technical Director Chris Foote
Stage Manager Maggie Higginbotham
Production Manager Alleigh Scantling
Skeleton Dance Choreographer Laine Satterfield
Puppet Designer Kylie Clark
Photos by Jay Paul
UPDATED POLICIES: Virginia Rep has been following local, state, and federal health guidelines, and keeping a close eye on the policies of peer theatre companies regionally and nationally. As a result, proof of vaccination is no longer required. Masks, covering the face and nose, are required for all patrons while inside all VaRep venues, lobbies, and restrooms. At this time, no food or drink is allowed in the theatre.
Photo Credits: Jay Paul
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