Everybody ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
October 23, 2019 

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ galvanic drama Everybody starts off innocently enough.  A roving narrator walks on and off stage instructing the audience on proper theater etiquette.  It’s a pleasant, meaningfully comedic, warm-up, yet it’s the sort of thing that throws you off your game before this existential exercise in Life and Death gets underway.

Elan Zafir as Beauty, Alina Collins Maldonado as Five Senses, Ayana Workman as Strength, Nancy Robinette as Death, Avi Roque as Mind, and Kelli Simpkins as Everybody. ~ Photo credit DJ Corey.

The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  And that says a lot.  But what’s just as interesting is the historical background from whence it is based.  Discovered as a 15th century medieval play, it was later adapted into a Dutch play that was influenced on a Buddhist fable.  As a morality play referencing sin, death and hell, it presents a universality that is palpable.

Nancy Robinette as Death, Clare Carys O’Connell as Time, and Yonatan Gebeyehu as Understanding ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey.

We meet God – a self-absorbed, arrogant, egotistical God who is snide and sarcastic and reveling in his omnipotence.  He’s actually very funny and so are the mortals, called ‘Somebodies’, because, well, they’re us warts and all.  When Death arrives, having been summoned by God to round up the unsuspecting Somebodies for their last ticket on earth, you’d be right on the money if you thought there’d be hell to pay.  “No one living gets away,” says Death ironically.

The cast of Everybody ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey

But oh, the angst and guilt when they are called to account.  Were they worthy of this life? Were they charitable? Can they be spared?  Everything devolves into utter chaos when God appears with a lottery wheel symbolizing the randomness of death.  “Is it all lies, delusions, nothingness?” the narrator wonders.  The sense one gets is an out-of-body experience, a wholesale questioning of life’s purpose.

Yonatan Gebeyehu as Usher and Nancy Robinette as God ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey.

Everyman wants to know if his death sentence is a dream or reality and we follow along as he desperately recounts his fears and insecurities, his faults and his beliefs.  Death has told him he can take someone with him, so he won’t feel so alone when his time is up.  Unsurprisingly, neither friend nor family will oblige him yet in those heartless rejections are some of the funniest bits of the dramedy.  There, and with ‘Stuff’.  The character represents the concept of all our precious stuff, how it controls our lives and how you can’t take it with you, not even a single treasured possession.  “I’m just a collector of inanimate objects,” one of the Somebodies grimly admits.

Alina Collins Maldonado as Stuff and Kellli Simpkins as Everybody ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey.

The part of Everyman is played by a rotating cast of actors with each performance… the randomness factor.  They are pulled from the group of five Somebodies and never know when they will be playing that particular role.  That, in and of itself, creates 120 possible cast combinations.  But Everyman is the most powerful role.  On Monday night Everyman was played by the Trans/Non-Binary actor, Avi Roque, who lent a powerfully cool street vibe to the character.

Avi Roque as Cousinship ~ Photo credit by DJ Corey.

I’d be utterly remiss if I didn’t offer up huge kudos to Director Will Davis who sums it up this way, “What does all of this, Life, possibly mean? What do we do if it means nothing?  And if it means nothing, how can I prepare myself for my own death – not to mention the death of others? How do I conceive of where my loved ones go – is ‘go’ even the right verb in this context?”  I’m sure that by the end of this deeply probative, wildly dramatic, visually stunning production you’ll be asking yourselves the same question.

A brilliant cast!  Highly recommended.

With Yonatan Gebeyehu as Usher/God/Understanding and Nancy Robinette as Death; the Somebodies are played by Alina Collins Maldonado, Avi Roque, Kelli Simpkins, Ayana Workman and Elan Zafir; Clare Carys O’Connell as Girl/Time; and Ahmad Kamal as Love.

Scenic Design by Arnulfo Maldonado, Costume Design by Melissa Ng, Lighting Design by Barbara Samuels, Sound Designer and Composer, Brendan Aanes, and Fight and Intimacy Choreographer, Cliff Williams III.

Through November 17th at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information contact the box office at 202 547.1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.