A play about death has the potential to be a downer, a huge cliché – or both. Everybody, a play presented by Cadence Theater Company, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and performed at Virginia Reparatory Theatre’s Theatre Gym is instead funny, reassuring, touching, and deeply profound.
Death, while an inevitability for everyone and everything, also feels emotionally inaccessible for so many of us who are socialized to believe that good health, the good life, and good things should last forever. We’ve lost touch with the transitory nature of both the good and the bad (or even that those judgements themselves are relative and subjective), and therefore may get stuck in an eternal sense of pending loss and/or grief.
“Of course, we avoid death. To know something is inevitable is one thing. To accept, to truly feel it…that’s different.” – Michael Haneke
Jacobs-Jenkins and Cadence Theater reunite us with death in a way that resonates, reassures, and informs without being trite. In this era of daily tragedy, it’s the antidote and lesson that we need to (re)discover a healthier and refreshing perspective about the nature of our beautiful and short-lived Earthly existence.
In this play, the story is orchestrated by God who wears a sun ray tiara and is played by Debra Wagoner. Death (Jacqueline Jones) is a grandmotherly figure with glitter eyelashes that visits those who are doomed to transition to the afterlife. In a moment of generosity, she agrees to let them return to Earth to find someone to accompany them on this journey to the Afterworld. What a great idea!
The doomed, as told by Jacob-Jenkins, is Everybody. After all, every one of us will have to navigate this transition eventually.
Everybody, in this play, is portrayed beautifully by Maggie Roop, who returns to her life to beseech the people and things that gave her life meaning, grounding, and pleasure. Most of those things, played by Audra Honaker, Jamar Jones, Katrinah Carol Lewis, Tyler Stevens, Keeley Maddux, Charlotte Hall, and Desiree Dabney, all to delightful effect, cannot or will not accompany Everybody into the Afterlife.
Further, Everybody discovers that some even provide destruction and ruin, as opposed to a source of meaning and comfort. Everybody’s existential crisis deepens, until she implores the universe, “Am I a joke? Am I already in hell?” Finally, she is left with nothing but surrender, and the one thing that can and will accompany her in her transition. (Sorry, you’re just going to have to see the play to discover what this is).
The play suggests, without proselytizing, that what is most important in death is also our advice for life: Be nice, listen, forgive, be less judgmental, own our mistakes, be willing to change our minds, and lead with understanding. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to recycle.
Director and assistant director, Rusty Wilson and Tim Glover, create this metaphysical reality by seamlessly immersing the audience in the experience so that we “truly feel it.” The story is light and amusing, sprinkled with moments of great insight, heaviness, and pain, and an analogy for our beautiful and complex life journey.
Death is inevitable, but life – that’s the tricky bit where things happen. – Simon Travaglia
Bring your teenagers and friends to experience the rare treat of Everybody at Virginia Reparatory’s Theatre Gym until June 19. You’ll leave feeling full of thought and rich with insight. Run-time is ninety minutes with no intermission.
For showtimes and tickets, go here.
[Feature photos by Jay Paul]