It’s confirmed — everybody dies in Loyola’s upcoming production of “Everybody” by Brendan Jacobs-Jenkins. The play premieres Feb. 17, and although the process has proven to be a challenge for cast members, the entertaining lottery system used to decide the actor’s roles is distinctive and will leave the audience with an individualized experience each night.
This original piece is a medieval morality play that circulates around the idea of death and what defines one after death. Questions of what human qualities are good and bad, such as friendship and material goods, are raised.
Branden Jacob-Jenkins is known for his modern adaptations of older plays, so it’s no surprise “Everybody” is his polished up version of “The Summoning of Everyman.” The production premiered on Off-Broadway in 2017 and was a huge success, winning the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play and the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Broadway play.
Loyola senior and assistant director Levi Welch said the logistics of this play are “objectively unique.” At the beginning of each show a board with the actor’s names will be presented to the audience. Then, their names will fall into their fated roles for the night.
Welch said the script’s abstract structure allows the multifaceted actors to fulfill their ever changing roles each night.
“It’s been an acting challenge for the actors because they have to memorize so much — it’s not even funny,” Welch, 22, said. “I can’t really think of another show that has this kind of element, so it’s been super fun.”
Senior Maggie Smith spoke on her role as Usher — a god of sorts — and elaborated on how exciting it is to work with a modern script instead of an older one.
“It’s a very meta show,” Smith, 21, said. “There’s a lot of breaking the fourth wall and I get to go through the whole pre-show speech.”
Some of the actors see the show as a life lesson. Senior Carlin Decker, who plays Death in the production, talked about how different his experience with this play has been from other productions. He related the alternating roles in the production to an overall life lesson the play presents to its audience.
“It’s really fun because it ties to the thematic idea that you never know what you’re going to get in life,” Decker, 21, said. “You can prepare for something but you can never expect what is coming.”
Every actor uses the lottery system to their advantage and adds their own spin to each character. But, the characters being different every time is part of the thrill. Decker spoke on the versatility the actors bring to the character Stuff, who’s a personification of life’s material objects.
“One of them will move around on a skateboard and the other will play with stuffed animals or arrange boxes,” Decker said. “Stuff’s character is commenting on being materialistic.”
Welch said “Everybody” harnesses foundational elements of the medieval play “The Summoning of Everyman” but is also revised to reach a modern audience. He said the timeless, serious concepts of truth and morality in a comedic setting have been unforgettable.
“It’s a really fun, interesting, compelling contemporary retelling of the story,” Welch said. “It has a lot of universal truths that were true in the medieval ages and are true now.”
Welch said that the play utilizes its audience, which becomes a part of the production. Without them, the success of the philosophies and jokes portrayed by the actors is at stake, according to Welch.
“The last cast member to be added is the audience and especially for a comedy — they’re so essential,” Welch said. “They are the other part of the joke, the actors set everything up perfectly but they need the payoff, the laughter of the audience.”