From Nov. 10 to 14, Meredith College Theatre performed Everybody in the Jones Hall Studio Theatre. The cast consisted of 13 actors, as well as the backstage crew. The show was written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and was directed by Professor Cathy Rodgers.
Before each show, the actors all chose a name out of a hat to determine who they would play that night. This meant the actors had to memorize the entire script and did not know their role until they were on stage for each performance. Half of the actors were also sitting in the audience until their roles (the “Somebodies”) were called out in the script, which was really interesting to observe. The actors who played the Usher, Death, Child, Love, Evil and Time were the same during every performance. However, towards the end of the first scene, the Usher appeared to have the actors playing Somebodies select their roles for the next part of the play. The Usher explained that choosing roles on stage meant to add another layer of uncertainty to the show.
I attended Everybody twice in order to have two unique experiences. When I attended the show on Thursday, I initially was confused about what was going on, as I did not have any knowledge of the plotline, but as the show progressed, it made more sense to me.
The play began with an opening monologue from the Usher, who introduced the show’s origins. Everybody is loosely based on an ancient Greek morality play called Everyman which “uses allegorical characters to examine the question of Christian salvation and what Man must do to attain it.” According to Merriam-Webster, a morality play is defined as “a kind of drama with personified abstract qualities as the main characters and presenting a lesson about good conduct and character,” though the Usher described it as an examination of how hell and sin played a role in people’s lives. Once they finished with the introduction, the play began almost abruptly with a message from God (who was played by a small hand puppet). God began to call out to Death, who rose from the audience and joined them on stage. Death called out to “everybody,” and it was eventually revealed that these were also members of the audience.
Everybody focused on the uncertainty and fear surrounding death. When Death explained that they had been summoned by God to gather everyone on a trip to meet God and present what they had done with their lives, none of the Somebodies (the actors who were in the audience) believed it at first. However, they all began to rationalize why they weren’t ready to go on that journey—alluding to the fear of life being cut too short.
As the play went on, more characters emerged from the audience and exited through the house doors. Though characters were speaking to each other, their presence throughout the theater personalized the message of the show. Every interaction between the main character, Everybody, and the other characters served as a reminder of the temporality of life. Each time Everybody asked one of them to come with them on their journey, they gave a reason why they couldn’t. This also caused Everybody to question the meaning of life and if they had fulfilled it during their time on Earth.
On Sunday when I attended the play for the second time, I understood the plotline more but continued to struggle with understanding the transition elements. During long monologues, marionette puppets were used to personify the characters wandering around the stage. While learning how to use a marionette is very impressive, I did not understand why they were used. In addition to this, recordings were used to prevent too many people from being on the stage at one time due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the use of recordings sometimes made it unclear which character was speaking.
The part of the play that stood out to me the most was when Everybody ran around with Love and had to strip down. During this, I became emotional because of the weight of what the characters were saying and doing. Hearing a person say “I surrender” and “my body is a mystery” and other similar things evoked lots of emotion from the audience.
When asked to give a statement about her experience acting in Everybody, Ainsley Mengel, ‘24, stated “Everybody was certainly a theatrical experience like no other…When I was cast as a Somebody, I was thrilled at the challenge that lay ahead. I loved getting to work with the other four amazing people cast as Somebodies as well as the other four team members.”
By Freya Dahlgren, Staff Writer, and Aminah Jenkins, Associate Editor