'Everybody' at the Shakespeare: See it

Photo by Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre
Elan Zafir, Alena Collins Maldonado, Nancy Robinette, Kelli Simpkins
Elan Zafir, Alena Collins Maldonado, Nancy Robinette, Kelli Simpkins

Everybody at the Shakespeare Theatre, a play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed with superb insight by Will Davis, is more than worth a trip to the Lansburgh theater. 

Based on the 15th-century play Everyman there is a cast of eight each strong and five of them take turns playing the lead role, a character named Everybody. Each night there is a lottery held in front of the audience to see who plays each role so that all five had to learn the entire play and be ready to play any part. 

The play asks the question “If you are told you are dying and could bring someone with you to face god and review your life who would it be?”  Director Will Davis says “Everybody is a comedy about death.” There are many laugh lines but by the end of the play you are not always laughing rather thinking seriously about what is important in your life. As the play moves forward you realize it doesn’t have to be a who, rather it can be a thing or a feeling, you want with you at death. In addition to the role of Everybody the roles the cast play are; Stuff, Senses, Kinship, Strength, All the Shitty Evil Things, Friendship, Beauty, Cousin, Mind, Understanding and Love. Then there is the role of Death played brilliantly by the redoubtable Nancy Robinette. 

Nancy Robinette, Clare Carys O’Connell, Yonatan Gebeyehu (Photo by: Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre) Nancy Robinette, Clare Carys O’Connell, Yonatan Gebeyehu

What you notice first is the amazing very simple but very effective set, lighting and sound. Kudos to Arnulfo Maldonado for the set, Barbara Samuels for the lighting and Brendan Aanes for the sound and music.

The evening begins when Yonatan Gebeyehu struts down the aisle reminding everyone to turn off their cell phones etc. It takes a few minutes to realize he is not just an usher but rather a member of the cast. His voice resonates and his acting ability shines through as the plays the usher, God and then Understanding. 

I am sure each cast member, when they play the role of Everybody, will bring their own strengths to the role which may make this a slightly different experience each night. Everybody represents all of us, the audience, and I guess that is appropriate as we are all different. Without us being aware of it the cast members are sitting with us as the play begins and their first lines are spoken from the audience before they head to the stage. An effective way to bring us, everybody, into the production. I feel lucky the cast member playing Everybody the night I was there was Avi Roque. They brought something shimmering to the role with brilliant acting. Having read before Avi identifies as Trans/nonbinary may have added to my understanding of who the broad spectrum of Everybody is. There were times during the show when they were not alone on the simple set and they were mesmerizing. Each of the cast members is exceptional. The night I saw the play Alina Collins Maldonado was Kinship/Strength/All the Shitty Evil Things; Kelli Simpkins was Stuff/Senses; Ayana Workman was Cousin/Mind and Elan Zafir was Friendship/Beauty. Ahmad Kamal always is Love and Clare Carys O’Connell always is Girl and Time and they were both great as well.

Avi Roque (Photo by: Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre) Avi Roque

It has taken me two days to decide what to say about this play. Not because I didn’t enjoy it but because it makes one think and try to unravel the layers it has. It makes you think about your own life and the things you think are important. What about your family, your friends, your loves and even the stuff you collect over the years that seems so important at the time. What will be your story when you die? What would you want to say about your own life? 

If you want to see a generally fast moving play, I say generally because there were few times, very few, where it could have moved faster, this is a play for you. If you want to see eight incredible actors ply their craft this is a play for you. And even more if you want to see a play that makes you think about your own life this is definitely a play for you. Everybody will be at the Shakespeare through November 17th.