BWW Review: Strawshop's EVERYBODY Examines Death ... Again and Again and Again
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' play "Everybody", currently at 12th Ave Arts from Strawberry Theatre Workshop, tells us from the beginning that we're in for a show about death. The House Manager (Justin Huertas) lets us know that this is a story that has been told before, many many times. But what makes "Everybody" fascinating, other than the fact that it's superbly written, is the way that it's presented to us with the actors being given their parts lottery style right in front of our eyes making this a show you could also see again and again and never quite see the same one twice.
The premise is such that Death (Mary Ewald) has been tasked with getting Everybody (Megan Ahiers, Susanna Burney, Annelih GH Hamilton, Lamar Legend, and MJ Sieber) to present their life to God. But in the course of whining and pleading and bargaining with Death (as one does), they've managed to convince Death to allow them to bring someone with them for help in their presentation and for company. Enter another interruption from the House Manager who has the five Everybody's select their roles and we see who will represent Everybody that night. A daunting task to say the least as that means they all need to know the entire play. No one knows from night to night if they'll play Everybody or one of the elements from Everybody's life. And the ride begins.
And it's quite a ride that will make you laugh one minute and get all introspective the next as the actors are forced to get quite vulnerable by the end. And director Kaytlin McIntyre keeps the pacing for this ride clipping along and the emotion always right on the surface and quite raw. And even on opening night this appeared to be a well-oiled machine even though, as we're told, there are 120 possible permutations of the play depending on the casting so keeping that all running smoothly is a Herculean effort.
But then a large portion of those kudos would have to go to this incredible ensemble cast. Each one completely invested and present for the others and Ready to Play no matter the outcome of the lottery. The night I saw, Burney was the lucky victim, and she was amazing but leaving I was already imaging the very different show I might have seen with any of the others. The exact same script but with such a diverse group, a much different performance. And that's the key to the show. It's always going to be different for everyone. Both a performance of this play and in a larger sense, death. And what's why we take the ride, to experience the differences. And hopefully be kind to each other along the way and leave the place a little better than how we found it. Sorry, I got all big picture, contemplative there for a minute. Also, to see the play multiple times, if the producers get their wish.
But it's not a far-fetched wish as you'll want to. I know I do. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Strawberry Theatre Workshop's production of "Everybody" a still yearning for more YAY. If only I had the time to see it again, but I need to see other things and report back to you, Dear Readers.
"Everybody" from Strawberry Theatre Workshop performs at 12th Ave Arts through February 16th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.strawshop.org.