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THEATER REVIEW Everybody
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-07-25

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Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

At: Brown Paper Box Company at the Pride Arts Buena, 4147 Broadway. Tickets: $25; BrownPaperBox.org . Runs through: Aug. 12

Long before the advent of self-help books, people looked to Morality Plays for advice on how to live in a manner ensuring a fair and just reward in the afterlife—however you define that term.

The earliest of these in the English language was the 1495-vintage Everyman, an allegorical narrative recounting its hero's final journey and his struggle to find a companion to accompany him beyond the grave. After Fellowship, Kindred, Worldly Possessions, Knowledge, Strength, Beauty, Discretion and Wits all desert him, he is left with only his previous Good Deeds to testify on his behalf at the gates of eternity.

That's the Christian version of the tale, anyway—but deconstructionist playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is not content with simply dressing old dogma in new robes. His reimagining of the medieval fable—now inclusively titled "Everybody"—expands the scope of its dramatic universe to address its applicability in an increasingly complex global consciousness, where Death expresses regrets at his duties rendering him "such a bitch" and even God falls prey to existential misgivings.

What hasn't changed is mortality's no-exception policy. To illustrate this, an assortment of actors disguised as playgoers of varying demographics ( among them, trans-identified newcomer Hal Cosentino ) are summoned to the stage and one selected by lottery for the role of protagonist that evening. This doesn't mean the also-rans are done for the night, though, but instead assume the personae of the would-be escorts. In Jenkins' most significant deviation from his source material, Good Deeds is transformed into an upstart "Love" promising to be faithful—albeit not until Everybody has surrendered to humility—but whose other face is not revealed until the very last.

This is a lot of metaphysical punch to pack into a mere 90 minutes, extended by inter-episode vocal montages as Everybody attempts to diagram the progress of the metamorphosis under way. Under the direction of Erin Shea Brady, the nine-member ensemble led by Chelsea David as the Almighty-in-usher-uniform ( complete with Saints badge ), discharge their tasks—ranging from quasi-balletic terpsichore set to Saint-Saens "Danse Macabre" to a nearly-nude exercise workout—with unflagging energy and aplomb. Since the cast assignments change with every performance, repeat viewings are encouraged. Who knows? You might emerge a little wiser in your own lifestyle choices for the experience.


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