REVIEW: Everybody

2:00pm • Sunday, April 2, 2023 • Arthur Miller Theater

Everybody was a very strange experience. The play is based on the 15th-century play Everyman, a morality tale which uses allegorical characters such as Death, Everyman, Fellowship, Kinship, and Good Deeds, to explain how one attains Christian salvation. This adaptation, written in 2017 by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, modernizes the story into a more inclusive, interfaith exploration of morality, death, and afterlife. Jacobs-Jenkins points out similarities with Buddhist philosophy in the story’s moral framework, and builds upon those similarities by questioning reality and emphasizing points such as Everybody’s attachments to the material world and the self. He also makes the play more interactive, using a lottery at the beginning that determines which actors will play which characters, and opening the play with several of the actors hidden among the audience.

I appreciated how the affordances of the physical space of the Arthur Miller Theater, the elements of audience participation, and the blending of the cast with the audience added to the surreal tone of the play. I wasn’t entirely sure when the performance had actually started, because the “ushers” spent a long scene in the beginning explaining the theater etiquette and executing the lottery. These elements made the play feel personal and “real,” which made the more surreal scenes even more jarring. For example, immediately after bantering cheerfully with the audience and explaining the reasoning behind the play, the ushers became conduits for the voice of God, speaking simultaneously and doing simple, mildly disturbing partner gymnastics while a distorted, echoing recording played over their voices.

By chance, two different cast members sat next to me over the course of the performance. The first was there when I entered the auditorium, noisily interacting with (who I later realized were) other cast members in the audience. The second actor played the role of a random child, which meant that midway through the performance a person in a puffy Alice-in-Wonderland-looking dress entered quietly, plopped down next to me, and rummaged around in her pocket for a Fruit Roll-Up. She put one end in her mouth and unrolled the whole thing into her lap, slowly sucking the strip into her mouth. It was weird, and I was uncomfortable. I felt this brief sense of relief when I realized she was an actor, but also sort of guilty. What if those actors had just been people being people? A more critical awareness of my own “othering” tendencies was an unexpected result of the performance.

I appreciated the weirdness with which SMTD executed this production of Everybody, and I wish the audience had been a little fuller, although it was a Sunday matinee performance. The cast did a great job, and I look forward to hopefully seeing them in some other productions during the next few semesters.

REVIEW: L’etat de Siege (State of Siege)

I want to say I was mindblown. But I left the theater mostly confused and somewhat annoyed.  Some comments:

I liked the metaphors: “Black horses of love.” “Summer is here.”” Winter is coming. (wink wink) ” My brain wore new clothes each time a supertitle spat out a line of beautiful poetic imagery. Each of these metaphors added new dimension to my understanding of different concepts. I can taste the salt of the sea when I hold “freedom” in my mouth, for example. Whenever I hear “repression” in my polsci class, I’m reminded of the claustrophobia created by Plague’s rule over the people. “Love”, to me, clings like the primeval, earthy smell of manure.

I liked the setup: The black garbage bag-like material that was spread across the stage created an eery sense of suspense: its supposed to CONCEAL something in or under the floor. And yes, Death and Plague showed up from underneath. The weirdly detached voice recording of a man in the beginning of the performance was a pleasant “addition” to the performance. He didn’t seem to show up after the first few seconds but it was entertaining for a while. The videos shown above the stage complemented the themes of the play. When the governor was speaking and the screens showed his silently screaming face, it gave a Big Brother-esque vibe to the play.

This is “Death” talking.

But I just didn’t enjoy the performance:

 (a) Maybe it’s just the times. I wasn’t able to enjoy it because it was not relevant to me. I don’t “see” the problems that the performance seemed to be harping about. But maybe that’s just because the play was written during World War 2 when totalitarian and fascist governments really did make cities feel more like coffins.

(b) Maybe it was just too “romantic” for me. I don’t know. One of the messages I got from the play was that one must be able to forget the fear of death to initiate regime change. Hm. It seems to particularly glorify this romantic martyr mentality instead of, I would say, the more important pragmatic coordination needed to create a successful revolution (it’s almost polsci midterms, so I’m reviewing my notes simultaneously). I know the play is not a handbook, but I’m also questioning its appropriateness in our time, when populists who appeal to emotion are starting to take the reins and terrorists are able to convince people to die for their cause by painting visions of heaven.

Diego can run away with Victoria, giving the city to Plague. Or he can die for Victoria to live.

(c) I didn’t understand the “jokes”. It made me salty.