By Jody Tuso-Key – managing editor
ATLANTA- September 15, 2022 — I’m not sure where to begin with this one, but here goes….we’re born, we live, and then we die. There’s a poem that has circulated around Facebook entitled The Dash. It’s about how we spend that time between the date of our birth and the date of our death. Did we spend it wisely? Did we do everything we wanted to do? Can we account for what we’ve done and who we’ve been to God? Alliance’s EVERYBODY at Alliance tackles those issues in an innovative and immersive experience that’s like no play anybody has seen before. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
Written by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, EVERYBODY is a modern take on the 15th-century play EVERYMAN which is considered one of the first plays in the English Language. I originally appeared Off-Broadway at the Irene Diamond Stage in 2017. In 2018 it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
EVERYBODY is similar to the play EVERYMAN in most aspects, except for the characters Fellowship, Kindred, Goods, Discretion, Five Wits, and Knowledge are renamed Friendship, Kinship, Stuff, Mind, Five Senses, and Understanding respectively. In the original, there is a scene where Everyman whips himself for Confession. This scene is altered so that they are instructed by the drill sergeant-esque Love to strip naked and shout about existential dread. Also instead of Good Deeds following Everyman/Everybody to the grave, in this play, that role is filled by Love. The story also utilizes modern technology with pre-recorded voiceover scenes done fully in the dark, depicting four of Everybody’s friends comforting them on their deathbed and a misunderstanding turns into a conversation about racism. One of the things that make this play unique is the 9 actors, 5 of them are chosen by a random lottery of colored balls to determine the character they will play. This gives the show 25 combinations, meaning every audience will most likely see a different show. The math teacher in me (that’s my day job when I’m not promoting and reviewing entertainment) loves this statistical aspect.
When you walk into the Coca-Cola Stage, everybody (not the character but the patron) is given a glow stick by the usher and told it will be needed for the show. We are greeted on the stage with a mirror image of the theater itself complete with the iconic wooden basket architecture, theater seats, and a live projection of the audience. There’s seating on stage complete with a balcony and audience members are actually seated in that space.
The show begins with the House Manager’s introduction, instructions to silence cell phones along with other house rules which segues into a brief history of the play. She is suddenly transformed into God. The next static character is cleverly revealed as Death. God asks death to find Everybody so they can account for their lives. One-by-one, 5 characters are also cleverly revealed and begin a brief dialogue with God. They are summoned to the stage to choose the colored balls, and corresponding colored racks of costumes are rolled out to each performer and the action begins.
As Everybody accounts for their life and heads toward death, they ask if they can bring someone with them. They encounter the randomly chosen characters Friendship, Kinship, Stuff, Mind, Five Senses, and Understanding who spend time with them but refuse to accompany them to the grave. Finally, they are confronted by the static character Love, who forces them to examine their conscience and finally agrees to accompany them to the grave. This reminds me of the Bible Chapter First Corinthians 13, which explains what love is and how when everything else is stripped away, only faith, hope, and love remain, and the greatest of these is love.
I attended this past Sunday’s matinee along with a new friend I volunteered with at DragonCon, Kawanna. We were both impressed with the production and its innovative approach to morality. All the performances were stellar, and to think of the work that went into recording the 5 performers both in audio and video in anticipation of them playing the part of Everybody. There’s a 1.05% chance that in the 19 performances at the alliance one or more of them will never draw the colored ball that signifies the role of Everybody (yes the geek in me did the math). I’m curious to know if that will happen. Irregardless, EVERYBODY is a show you might want to see more than once as it changes every performance.
The director in me (my after-school gig is producer/director of a children’s theater company) would like to have been a fly on the wall of the rehearsal process. The 5 random characters needed to know every line and blocking (where the characters stand and move on stage) in the performance. It’s a job that was tackled by co-directors TinasheKajese Bolden and Susan V Booth. They’ve done a masterful job giving this show life…and death, which is been in the forefront of our minds since 2019 with the advent of Covid.
Every cast member plays their part in stellar fashion. Deidre Henry pulls triple duty in her role as Usher, God, and Understanding. She has a stage presence that makes for a very believable God. She’s right up there with George Burns and Morgan Freeman in making this universal character come to life. Andrew Benator as death brings a sense of humor that makes such a fearful role less intimidating for the audience. Shakirah Demesier is a beautiful Love and portrays the role with a firm but kind benevolence. Skylar Ebron as the youthful Time brings an innocence to the role and a wisdom and maturity that is well beyond her years. Each static character anchors the show beautifully.
At the Sunday Matinee I enjoyed, (if I recall correctly) the part of EVERYBODY was played by Brandon Burditt. Courtney Patterson was Friendship, Chris Kayser was Kinship, Joseph J Pendergrast was Stuff, and Bethany Ann Linde was Five Senses. Every performer did a fantastic job piecing together the puzzle of Everybody’s life and descension into the grave.
EVERYBODY is a Speakeysie MUST SEE and SEE AGAIN. Get your tickets at Alliance Theater and don’t miss out on this unique experiment!!