By Eugene Paul
old is ghoulishly new again, Everyman is now Everybody and the
begynneth a treatise how ye hye fader of heven sendeth dethe to somon every
creature to come and gyve a counte of theyr lyves in the worlde, and is in
maner of a morall playe.
hundred years ago the morality play, Everyman, translated from the
earlier Dutch Eickerlijc, began its life in England, then lay somnolent
until 1901 when it’s been staged ever since. No one knows who wrote it. As Everybody,
in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ playful, jazzed up politically correct and quite
as politically incorrect theatrical version, it remains a concoction of
glancing modern morality brilliantly staged by director Lila Neugebauer all
over the Signature’s Diamond Theatre.
runs with the playwright’s profoundly wonderful brainstorm: that five members
of the bumptious company assembled memorize the entire script and then by lot
take turns playing the central character, Everybody, so that no one in the
audience knows who is playing whom and neither does the cast until that very
moment. These five, Lakisha Michelle May, Louis Cancelmi, Brooke Bloom,
Michael Braun and David Patrick Kelly, all highly individual, render each
performance inevitably unique. They also play Friendship/Strength,
Kinship/Mind, Cousinship/Beauty/All Shitty Evil Things and Stuff/Sense. When
they are not playing Everybody.
cast, all eager to play the player game, rattle the audience somewhat, an
audience already rattled somewhat by not having programs – they’re given out as
you depart – and already somewhat wary having been beguiled by Jocelyn Bioh
into believing she was just the charming Signature Theatre Center usher cutely
cozening us into turning off our damn cell phones, then, suddenly, becoming
God, and laying out the play, as well as our lives. Once the evening’s
Everybody has been selected – in this case, he is portrayed by David Patrick
Kelly and he is so good I don’t know why anyone else bothers – with great gusto
we gambol headlong into the new old play.
who announces herself as Death but the most irresistibly winsome ditz in show
business, Marylouise Burke, a gorgeous piece of countercasting, Death, who none
may forswear and all must obey and who has come for Everybody. Traditionally
terrifying, totally adorable. She clambers all over the theatre seeking him.
Scattered throughout the house are all of the performers, dressed by costume
designer Gabriel Barry as ordinary eccentric Signature Center aficionados,
director Neugebauer thus enmeshing us, the audience into her posit that
Everybody means everybody and this play is about every one of us.
do not be surprised – or do be surprised – when your seat mate or the next one
over becomes part of the show and ends up out of his or her seat up on the
stage, where highly ingenious scenic designer Laura Jellinek has arranged a
long, boring row of fourteen armchairs facing the audience. Us. With a great
big surprise in that blank wall behind those chairs when Death gets really pushy
and Everybody can no longer gainsay her. Because that’s what Everybody tries to
do throughout the play, implore Friendship or Kinship or Cousinship or anybody
anything to help him forestall Death. Even Time is beseeched (Lilyana Tiare
Cornell) (she also plays – duh – Girl). It is Love (gently superb Chris
Perfetti) who is the only one that Everybody beseeches who will, in the end,
accompany him to the grave where Death awaits him. Think on that, ye mortals.
Jacobs-Jenkins wages each of these encounters as politely desperate entreaties
which degenerate into the “Fuck You!” vituperative vernacular we all know and
love so well, eeriiy pinpointed by director Neugebauer’s sharp focus enhanced
by the brilliant lighting sorcery of designer Matt Fray You have to see it.
And not. Hear it. And not. Feel it. And not. Constantly seesawing between
profundity and pranks. And those skeletons! Those humongous skeletons, what
they do with Brandon Walcott’s music and Raja Feather Kelly’s choreography!
Who created them remains mystery. Then, Everybody’s last, desperate, frantic
flight, round and round and round, in futile evasion of Death. And the
ghoulish surprise beyond the wall behind the row of boring chairs. My dears,
you have much to look forward to. Before the end.
the Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, Tickets: $30-$40. 100
min. Thru Mar 16.