For anyone who has felt a reckoning of some kind was at hand during the past 20 months of the pandemic, the timing of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play Everybody may seem—ahem—dead-on appropriate.
Taking stock of our lives as we consider mortality? Check. Trying to figure out what matters most to us, and whom we matter most to? Check. A little bit concerned about the afterlife and what it means, and what our lives spent on this earth really mean? Check, check and check.
The play, enacted by second-year acting students of the Conservatory, is Jacobs-Jenkins’ contemporary (and often cleverly funny) take on the 15th-century morality play Everyman, which most of us of a certain age probably read back in school somewhere, sometime. (Obvious point: There’s only one letter difference between the words morality and mortality.) Everyman—or, more inclusively, Everybody—is summoned by Death, to make his final “presentation” before God. Needless to say, Everybody is scared and would like more time to get ready for the big test.
Death, God’s willing assistant, offers him that, if he can find somebody willing to go with him on this ultimate journey. As in Everyman, Everybody turns to Friendship, Kin and Cousins, and “Stuff” or Goods, all of whom bail on him/them. Will Everybody have better luck with Love (Sydney Story)? (Good Deeds, in the original.) Maybe, but not before literally running around the set partially clothed for a while.
As the Usher (Macaria Martinez) explains to the audience (along with the usual pre-curtain cell phone and candy wrapper warnings, amusingly adapted), there’s also a gimmick at work in this production: There are actually five “Somebodies,” one of which is chosen by lottery every night to play the lead role of Everybody. That means they all have to be ready to step in, and it means that if you came back to see the show for every performance, you would see something different each time.
On opening night, Evan Stevens was chosen for Everybody, which meant Erin O’Connor, Joe Ayers, Christian Douglass and Dreaa Baudy played the roles of all the people or things he tries to convince to accompany him. Jerald Wheat is Death, who’s sometimes a bit bored with his job; Imani Williams is Time; and Bryan Lewis is Evil, who sneaks in towards the end in its usual annoyingly sticky way.
Stevens is convincing as a man desperately seeking some kind of salvation. Baudy as “Stuff” (wearing a tinselly goldish wig and gloves) has the right indifferent “don’t blame me” air; and Ayers as Friendship scores with some of the playwright’s sharpest, rapid-fire lines. The production is directed, with good pacing and understanding of Jacobs-Jenkins’ approach, by Greg Leaming, with some assistance from Jonathan Epstein in staging.
We may think we live in very different times from the centuries-ago audiences for Everyman. In some ways, sure. In others...the same eternal questions arise. The answers remain elusive.
Everybody continues through Nov. 21 in the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, call (941) 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org/conservatory/season.