Now on stage at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre through November 17, 2019, Everybody is Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins adaptation of the Dutch play, Elckerlijc, influenced by a Buddhist fable. DC audiences are rushing to it not only because it is the first play in Simon Godwin’s first season at STC; and not only because it teaches lessons about virtues and vices; and not only because everyone would love to know what to do to save their soul; but definitely also because there are 120 possible combinations to how the players could act it… and the unpredictability is exciting!
Close to the beginning of the play, a lottery decides the character of 5 of the 9 players in the performance. This action easily translates to the randomness of death — and perhaps of life, too — a central theme of Everybody. But if it’s meant to confuse or disarm the actors, there it misses its mark. On the night we were in the audience, it was as if each had been cast specifically for their role.
In Everybody’s dream within a dream, the audience follows along with the character Everybody as they attempt to understand the meaning of life. The character has been abruptly summoned by Death — and Death informs Everybody that they will need give a “presentation” of life to God (if God even exists). Everybody spends the play both trying to figure out how to explain the meaning of existence and (for comfort) find someone or something to accompany them to the afterlife.
Not surprisingly, no one is jumping at the chance to die with Everybody (at our performance played by the talented Avi Roque). He turns to Friendship (amusingly played by Elan Zafir), Family/Kinship (Ayana Workman/Alina Collins Maldonado) and finally Stuff (Kelli Simpkins) to no avail. And this makes Everybody’s search for meaning that much more poignant. Because it’s obvious that humanity has a shared destiny, but that doesn’t mean anyone is ready for it.
The concept of the play, its discussion of an uncomfortable topic, and its staging in this way at this particular time are all significant. Go see Everybody because it will make you think about how you are spending and prioritizing your time alive. Go knowing that it’s a playful concept to broach a very deep topic — there’s definitely some outlandishness and a little too much gratuitous profanity. And go (maybe multiple times) because with its lottery, every performance is unique, and the randomness is riveting!