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"Everybody" Isn't Just Any Play

Colorful swatches dangle from the rafters. Naked light bulbs hang at the end of long cords. So do other objects: coffee mugs, booklets that turn out to be scripts, a hanger with a black-and-orange backpack, a stethoscope. The set for the Catamounts’ production of Everybody is spare and evocative. The better to make room for the demands (and theatrical pleasures) of contemplating the end – not of all of us – but of Everybody.

On stage a final weekend, the play is the work of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins -- with an assist from some 15th century European monks and perhaps a Buddhist or two. We are told this bit of history when an usher, clad in an ivory ensemble she’s accessorized with the gaudiest fanny pack ever, enters. This character ambles into the Dairy Arts Center's Carsen Theatre to make announcements typically handled by recordings: a plea to silence cellphones, advice to unwrap candy, an admonition to bring to a close the pre-show chatter. Actor Karen Slack’s Usher then schools the audience on Hell (the Monks) and impermanence (the Buddhists).

Soon, though, she's morphing into a sunglass-wearing god. Correction: morphing into GOD. The sound design (by Kenny Storms) transforms Usher’s willfully nasal, altogether human voice into something vast and basso. Among the many charms of this shrewd show is that throughout, characters air-quote that grandest of deity’s name.

“God” is under-impressed with humans. And so a lesson is required, with the aid of Death and a lottery. Usher wheels in a bingo cage with colored ping pong balls. She draws a ball out of the contraption and, in a clever twist, picks the corresponding actor who’ll play Everybody that evening. The night I saw it, Tresha Farris had the honor. I can still see her running desperately around and around as her end really is nigh. Love -- dressed to the nines and rather tough -- goads her on.

Edith Weiss gives her not-so-grim reaper a mildly jovial, matter-of-fact air. Death’s been met with negotiations and hope-against-hope delaying tactics before. Feeling kindly – or at least in no hurry – Death allows Everybody to seek a companion. An old hand at this mortality thing, Death's pretty sure Everybody will come up short.

What follows is disarming, sad, funny, instructional. It’s a morality play after all. And Jacobs-Jenkins is an exacting playwright as well as a thoughtful steward of theatrical forms. The two other plays that have received regional premieres in Colorado -- Appropriate, about a Southern family and their tarnished legacy; Gloria, about workplace ambition and tragedy (each produced by the Curious Theatre Company) – couldn’t be more different.

Director Julie Rada has perfumed the atmosphere here with music. Between scenes with titles like -- “The Summoning” “A Chorus” “You Know What? Fuck You!” – I could glean a tune, part game-show theme, part waiting-room musak. And on that recent Saturday night, DeVotchKa’s most haunting of songs, “How It Ends,” sounded its final melancholy notes. Fitting for existential reckoning.

Yet -- and here -- a side note: It was the hard-back chairs placed around the theater’s perimeter, so audience members faced the action and other audience members that nudged me into considerations of a different (somehow resonant) space. The set-up recalled the oval of the Friends meeting I often attend. A week earlier someone had shared her thoughts about regret. What struck me was how her definition of regret focused on the things she had done that made for sorrow – shame even. How different, I thought, eyes closed and listening. My regrets are more of the “things I didn’t do or haven't yet done” variety. Sins of commission and those of omission, I suppose.

Regret wheedles and wends its way in and through “Everybody.” (How could it not? Doesn’t almost everybody fear and resist being sprung from this mortal coil?)

“Hey, everybody. Don’t be so crazy in life. Like, you may think all that ‘craziness’ is great initially because it’s really fun but, when you die, you may sort of regret all that fun...” Usher riffs, imagining the Catholic monks’ pitch to unbelievers.

Along the way to the grave, Everybody encounters Kinship, Friendship (a swaggering and amusing Bernadette Sefic), Time (young Lily Gruber) and Understanding (Slack) among others. All the performers please, but with his “You can’t take me with you” rebuffs and a ridiculously gold get-up, Jason Maxwell’s Stuff might be the funniest. Although, Ilasiea Gray makes a fierce Love.

In the end, it appears Everybody is on her own. Or is she? You’ve got Thursday, Friday and Saturday to find out. Head to the Dairy. You won’t regret it.

Everybody. Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Directed by Julie Rada. Featuring Tresha Farris, Hossein Forouzandeh, Ilasiea Gray, Lily Gruber, Jason Maxwell, Bernadette Sefic, Karen Slack, Peter Trinh and Edith Weiss. Costume Design: Tricia Music. Prop design: Amanda Berg Wilson. Production: McPherson Horle. Set design: M. Curtis Grittner. Sound design: Kenny Storms. Lighting Design: Jacob Welch. Stage management: Wayne Breyer. Through Oct. 12. At the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut. Boulder or 303.444.7328

Photos: Friendship (Bernadette Sefic, left) and Everybody (Tresha Farris) have a heart to heart; Death Credit: Michael Ensminger

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