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BWW Interview: EVERYBODY'S Marylouise Burke Dresses to Kill

Marylouise Burke, who plays Death in the intriguing Everybody, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, was in the middle of something just before an interview. "I'm surrounded by all these financial papers because I'm doing my taxes," said Burke. "So I thought, 'Death and taxes.'"

EVERYBODY, based on the 15th century morality play EVERYMAN, tackles The Big Subjects -- God, love, time, friendship and death, for example. The character Everybody is played by a different actor for each performance. Burke plays Death for all shows. God is always played by Jocelyn Bioh, Lilyana Tiare Cornell always plays Time, and Chris Perfetti plays Love.

"Each one is so vivid in the way they play Everybody and I try to be present in the moment with them," Burke said before a recent performance. "They're all fulfilling the play, just in these different keys," she said. Four other characters in the play, directed by Lila Neugebauer, learn who they will be playing when the audience does, via ping pong balls drawn from a cage.

Friendship/Strength, Kinship/Mind, Cousinship/Beauty/All the Shi**y Things and Stuff/Senses are also characters in the play.

Brooke Blum, Michael Braun, Louis Cancelmi, David Patrick Kelly and Lakisha Michelle May take turns playing Everybody.

Before the show begins, Everybody and the other cast members are scattered throughout the audience, so you may be seated next to one of the actors. Don't be nervous. No one gets hurt. Expect some twists.

Burke does not wear a long black robe nor does she wield a scythe. Instead, she makes multiple changes of costume, all tastefully appointed for eternity. One dazzles with yellow-gold sequins. "That's my favorite outfit, well, you know, you just have to love the look," Burke said. "I do come on with tasteful pearls and cracking a whip," she said with a laugh.

"I love Death as a character and the way she's trying to be efficient and handle things," she said. "But God is just in that bad mood." Death has to perform the duty of claiming Everybody. "Then Everybody starts rebelling," Burke said. "He's so terrified of dying alone, he tries to bring others with him.

"Death has to cope with so much but ultimately she knows she has the power and will have to make the dreaded thing happen. That's her job and she wants to do it well," Burke said. Don't assume the play is a downer. There are some beautiful and humorous moments. Two large dancing skeletons appear iridescently in the pitch black, reminding the audience of their own destiny.

Death moves the story forward with an exploration metaphor. "I just love the fact that I have to get changed into my traveling outfit, which is the least practical thing to go traveling in," she said of her golden-sequined costume. When Burke is offstage, she is mesmerized by the action on stage. "It's very interesting to have watched it in rehearsal and then see it backstage," Burke said. "Everybody is so different. PatRick Kelly with his gray hair and Lakisha is young and gorgeous. Brooke is now five months' pregnant and she shows more every day. She's not trying to hide it," said Burke, "it's just part of the show."

Everybody is a physically and emotionally draining role. Running around the set in circles after being told to strip down to underwear, is but one task. "They each have a different presence and comedic rhythm. They growl in desperation," Burke said. The changing roles of Everybody and the four other characters influence the allegorical ending. "It breaks your heart," she said, "but there's also humor."

Even though EVERYMAN was written in the 15th century, the concerns and worries of Everybody might have been written today. "Sometimes the discussions of the dreams that take place in the dark are so contemporary," Burke said. "The monologue is so earnest and soul-searching. Then it layers and the skeletons come out and do their 'danse macabre.'

"It's like a primal symbol that washes over you. When I first saw it in rehearsal, I was like, 'Wow,'" Burke said. "I don't think this is a pessimistic play. It's a morality play that ultimately comes to an end. Everybody is questing to get help because he's been blindsided by the idea of death," she added.

"He turns from one resource to another and finally finds he has to face it himself." Death summons cast members seated in the audience to the set, designed by Laura Jellinek. (Lighting design is by Matt Frey, costume design by Gabriel Berry and sound design by Brandon Wolcott.)

"I think God is deeply disappointed that this thing he created is being ruined. She wants to figure out where she went wrong," Burke said. "How could this have happened? Everybody destroying each other and the rest of her creation. And I'm lurking in the back waiting to make my entrance."

Burke has been in numerous Broadway and Off Broadway productions as well as television and film. She has few pre-show rituals. "I try to rest my voice and do some Alexander techniques for alignment before I come to the theater," Burke said. The technique was introduced to her by the actor/director David Hyde Pierce when he directed her Off Broadway in RIPCORD. "He brought in his professional teacher to work with us and I continued to work with her," Burke said.

"Everybody," said Burke, "has his own technique."

EVERYBODY is playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Broski

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