06 March 2017


Plays built around gimmicks are often more interesting as theatrical fillips than satisfying as artistic experiences—curiosities more than dramas.  That’s how I felt about Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Everybody, a world première at the Signature Theatre Company until 19 March (an extension from the 12th).  Aside from anything else, this circumstance also means there are two ways to approach writing up the production: discuss the play as a script in performance and describe the performative game devised by the playwright and the director.  Just to make my task more complex, I’m going to try to do both here and hope I can manage to depict both to some degree.

Everybody, the second play of Jacobs-Jenkins’s Residency Five tenure which began with Appropriate in 2014 (see my report on 31 March 2014), started previews at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage on 31 January and opened on 21 February.  (Signature’s Residency Five guarantees the writer three productions over five years.)  Diana, my STC subscription partner, and I went to Theatre Row to catch the performance on Friday evening, 24 February. 

Jacobs-Jenkins, now 32, has composed five previous plays, starting with Neighbors in 2010 (New York’s Public Theater), all of which have been produced Off-Broadway or in such prestigious rep companies as the Yale Repertory Theatre.  Among his awards and honors, the dramatist is a MacArthur (“genius”) Fellow (2016), the recipient of Yale’s 2016 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize (Drama), and a nominee for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for Gloria, presented in 2015 by the Vineyard Theatre of New York City); STC’s Appropriate and Theatre for a New Audience’s 2015 An Octoroon both won Obies.  (A more extensive bio of the playwright appears in my report on Appropriate.) Everybody, Jacobs-Jenkins’s latest play, is a reworking of the medieval morality play Everyman (formally The Summoning of Everyman; anonymous, late 15th century). 

While Appropriate started its stage life at the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays a year before its Signature début, Everybody is receiving its theatrical initiation in STC’s 294-seat proscenium house.  At 100 minutes, Everybody pretty much hews to the medieval original for its storyline, even occasionally quoting from a modern-English translation of its middle-English text—though most of Jacobs-Jenkins’s language is colloquially modern (and occasionally vulgar) for the most part.  (Many of the allegorical characters’ labels have been updated—“Goods” has become “Stuff,” for example.  “Everyman” was changed to “Everybody” for purposes of inclusivity: “This is the 21st century—we know there’s more than men among us,” as David Finkle—who also reviews for the Huffington Post—put it on the Clyde Fitch Report.) 

The gimmick is that among the cast of nine, five rotate in the role of Everybody; at each performance, she or he is selected by lot and the remaining four company members play the attributes Friendship and Strength; Kinship and Mind; Cousinship, Beauty, and All the Shitty Evil Things (that last is Everybody’s bad deeds); and Stuff and Senses.  Jacobs-Jenkins asserts that there are 120 different combinations that can happen (I don’t actually get this math), so the five castmates, of varied races, genders, and ages, have a lot of memorizing to do—essentially the whole play, but from five different perspectives, one for each character they could play (not to mention the subtle variations for playing against five different Everybodys).  By now, considering the law of averages, after over 25 performances, all the alternate Everybodys should have had a chance to do the role—not necessarily in all 120 variations of ensembles—but I was still astonished at how smoothly the cast pulled this off on what amounts to a moment’s notice.  Possibly as a result of this gimmick and director Lila Neugebauer’s staging on a set that looks like a section of an empty row of a theater auditorium, the seats facing the spectators—somehow nestled within a fairly packed one (yeah, I can’t explain that, either)—along with nooks, crannies, and aisles of the actual Diamond Stage, there’s a veneer of improvisation over the whole production—some of it built in and some organic. 

Just at curtain time, with the house lights still up, a staffer from Signature, dressed in an aqua T-shirt emblazoned with the company’s name (and “STAFF” on the back) and complete with headset and walkie-talkie on her belt, comes to the front of the auditorium just below the stage left corner of the platform to make the usual announcements about turning off cell phones, locating the fire exits, and opening candy wrappers before the show starts—except that the spiel is a lot longer and much more elaborate than the pro forma message.  This usher is far too voluble about the play and the performance, so it’s quickly obvious this is part of the show.  That’s because this usher (Jocelyn Bioh) isn’t on the staff of the theater; she’s a member of the cast of Everybody and she proceeds to explain the basic premise of the play, starting with its origins as the “oldest recorded play” in Western literature, derived from the Dutch morality play Elckerlijc, itself possibly adapted from “a Buddhist fable.”  (Yes, she gives a mini-medieval-lit lecture.) 

Bioh then transforms into God—just vocally—and calls on Death (Marylouise Burke) to summon Everybody to account for his life, and Death—“who fears no man,” as she keeps telling us (or her mortal charges . . . or herself)—goes into the house to confront the five actors (Lakisha Michelle May, Brooke Bloom, Michael Braun, Louis Cancelmi. David Patrick Kelly), seated around the auditorium, planted among the theatergoers.  (Because, you see, Everybody is one of us, any of us . . . all of us.)  They all protest that they’re unprepared for such an accounting as they gather at the foot of the stage at house right, where the usher/God had previously stood and continue to argue with Death. 

The usher—Bioh’s really less a mere usher than a house manager, a somewhat godlike figure in the theater—returns and explains that one of the five actors will be chosen by lot to play Everybody in the evening’s performance, and she spins a bingo cage loaded with (I presume five) ping-pong balls.  (Some reviewers suggested this process is rigged, but I don’t see why it isn’t legit.  Go know.)  The one to portray the title character this night was Kelly, an older man with receding, white hair that’s long at the back, and a long, white beard and full mustache that make him look somewhat like George Bernard Shaw.  (Hardly an appropriate image for an everyman—but, hey, what can you do?)  Through Death, God calls Everybody to his final accounting and he asks if he can have some time to find someone to go with him on this frightening journey . . . from which he’ll never return.  “Sure,” Death replies exuberantly, “if any were brave enough to come with you.”   

But after promising “literally go to hell and back” for him, Friendship, whose as glib and superficial as any generic fair-weather comrade, “flakes out” (the kicker here is “and back”!), as do Kinship and Cousinship.  Stuff is far more comforting, but is willing to go only so far, as are Strength, Mind, Senses, Beauty, Time (Lilyana Tiare Cornell, a girl of maybe 10), and, ultimately, Understanding (Bioh once again), who all abandon Everybody at grave’s edge.  (This is the way with dying, of course—all our attributes and faculties fall away as we approach the end.  My Dad used to like to joke, “If you can’t take it with you, then I’m not going!”  That didn’t work out for him in the end, however.)  Love (Chris Perfetti) alone is willing to go the whole distance—after he spends a few minutes humiliating Everybody as payback for not coming to him earlier—but this all leads to the unavoidable truth: Everybody (and everybody) dies alone.

Between the allegorical scenes in which Everybody confronts his various attributes to try to convince them to go with him into the grave, Jacobs-Jenkins has contrived black-out scenes in which Everybody seems to be describing a dream to the other members of his former group of actors.  We can’t really see anything—Kelly's dimly lit at the front of the theater but the others seem to be behind the scenes someplace—and the voices all emanate from the PA system so they sound disembodied.  (The voices may, in fact, be recorded.)  I never figured out exactly what Jacobs-Jenkins intends with this gambit, but it seems to have something to do with witnessing Everybody’s dying visions, as if the play were a terminal dream.  From my perspective, it conflicts with the allegory of the Everyman adaptation—though I’m not sure that matters much.

Neugebauer, whose previous productions of the Signature Plays and A. R. Gurney’s The Wayside Motor Inn Diana and I  saw at STC (reports posted on 3 June 2016 and 1 October 2014, respectively), stages Everybody throughout the auditorium with only a little of it actually on the stage—which isn’t even used extensively until the last scene; it’s no more than a runway for the rest of the play.  The only part of the play with a representative set, revealed above the row of 18 theater seats that occupies the stage’s apron when a black curtain is parted, comes at the end: scenic designer Laura Jellinek has conceived a gray, rocky hillside that looks like the slope of a dormant volcano into which has been dug a grave-sized, but apparently bottomless, hole into which descend Everybody, Love, and Death (the only one to come back up).  Except for this scene and one theatrically stunning bit (which I’ll get to shortly), the play is presented like a no-budget, student-produced show mostly performed either in black-out (yes, in the semi-dark) or with the house lights up.  (The lighting designer is Matt Frey, who also provides one elaborate light show with strobes and blinding spots.  I’m not sure what it was meant to impart other than sound and fury.)  

That one really impressive bit I mentioned earlier is a terrific dance-like sequence, choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly (to music and sound created by Brandon Wolcott), with two giant human-skeleton puppets that glow in a near black-out (so you can’t see the black-clad puppeteers inside the huge skeletons) that dance through the  house.  (Think Mexico’s Day of the Dead.)  The scene itself is ultimately an over-long digression, a set piece plopped in presumably to wake everyone (not to be confused with Everybody) up, but it’s theatrically stunning.  

As far as the acting goes, the cast is clearly an ensemble.  They’d have to be to get away with that casting gag.  The actors playing the attributes are all fine, but I can’t say anyone has a particularly hard row to hoe here—allegorical characters have little depth and all their appearances are brief and self-contained.  Kelly, as Everybody, has a little more work to do, and he carries it off it perfectly competently, even energetically; at one point, he’s challenged by Love to strip down to his underclothes and run several laps around the theater’s orchestra section.  Kelly’s the second-oldest member of the cast, after Burke; all the other actors are much younger.  This lends his portrayal of Everybody—Matthew Murray of Talkin’ Broadway called his performance “avuncular,” which I’ll accept—an extra frison of sympathy since death is so naturally associated with advanced age.  (Sorry, David—I’m even older than you, but it’s still true, I’m afraid!)  

As God and the usher, Bioh also accomplishes what she has to; her usher combines authority and a flippant jolliness.  Burke’s Death is entirely puckish—not a fearsome Mephistopheles but a slightly dotty angel (with a squeaky little baby voice) who might have been Clarence’s tutor in It’s a Wonderful Life (but far less sure of herself than Claude Rains’s Mr. Jordan is in Here Comes Mr. Jordan).  It’s an amusing and enjoyable performance, what the English would call an “old dear,” but finally more contrived than fitting.  The cast all do what they’re supposed to, no one missteps—but it’s all just lightweight.  There’s just no heft to anything.

Everybody is blatantly meta-theatrical—and self-referential.  Jacobs-Jenkins makes this clear in the program—which, to prevent too many spoilers, isn’t distributed until the audience exits the theater after the intermissionless performance—with the setting description: “The Irene Diamond Stage, The Pershing Square Signature Center, 2017.”  Along with the usher’s outfit, there’s also a mention in the play that the participants are all at the Signature Theatre.  (The seats across the front of the stage are identical to the ones in the Diamond’s actual auditorium.)  And let’s not forget that at the beginning of the performance, the usher points out that this is a play—adapted from another play, based on yet another play.  Theater as Russian nesting dolls! 

In the end, Everybody is more interesting than good, an idea with several built-in problems.  First, the basic idea: why retell this 600-year-old tale?  Does it need to be told again?  I don’t think so—although, maybe we do need to be reminded to be nicer and kinder during our lifetimes.  I just wonder if Every-whatever is an effective way of saying that to a 21st-century, Trump-era populace/audience.  Second, why make a new adaptation, rather than just presenting the original in a new production?  The play’s certainly open to all kinds of innovative staging interpretations and even “retranslation” from the original early English.  Jacobs-Jenkins’s adaptation isn’t sufficiently impressive to make the point new or relevant.  As my friend Kirk Woodward put it, “[A]llegory just isn’t a scintillating approach”—and once you’ve figured out the premise, the end is pretty predictable. 

The text and ideas aren’t above the level of a precocious undergrad college troupe.  The take-away is still that we all face death alone except for . . . well, Love in Jacobs-Jenkins’s new version.  (In the original play, it’s Good Deeds who accompanies Everyman to the grave.  I don’t really get Jacobs-Jenkins’s point of making it Love in Everybody.  Strikes me as self-indulgent.)  The ideas aren’t really new, just up-dated, mostly in language, but not content.  (Everyman is a Christian religious tract and its derivative doesn’t alter that.  It’s not even Judeo-Christian, much less ecumenical or pan-sectarian; it’s pretty straight-up Catholic, intended for a homogeneously Catholic viewership.)  Jacobs-Jenkins basically follows the plot and concept of the medieval original—old wine in new bottles, so to speak.  Maybe even just recycled bottles.  

Theatrically, the only new idea is the casting lottery at the center of the whole production concept.  Director Neugebauer, asserting that Jacobs-Jenkins always “knew he wanted some element of chance” to play a part in Everybody, said that she and the playwright didn’t want Everybody to be represented by “a single actor, who necessarily has an age, a gender, a race, a sexual orientation.”  They also contemplated “the notion that death could strike any one of us, at any moment . . . .”  I have to say, I didn’t feel anything in the performance so profound as that sounds.  Each of the scenes in which Everybody entreats his attributes to go with him on his final journey is pretty much the same as the others, so the whole evening becomes a series of minor variations on a repetitive theme.  Jacobs-Jenkins’s casting gimmick doesn’t alter that.

The only intriguing thing about the lottery gambit—to me, at any rate—is contemplating what the rehearsal process must have been like, with five actors all learning five different roles in different combinations and the whole cast running the show for each set of those five performers.  I can’t even begin to imagine it.  It’d be like a whole rehearsal period of endless replacement rehearsals.  Thank goodness, I’d think, the play’s only an hour and 40 minutes long—they could run it more than once each session with different actors in the alternating roles.  (The other four actors only have to learn one part and be prepared to play opposite a shifting cast of scene partners.  Only Death, however, really interacts with characters other than Everybody.)  But as far as the performances are concerned, I can’t see that this casting trick was at all significant.  (As one of my Rutgers teachers would say it’s “Hamlet on roller-skates.”)  The roles aren’t so complex or deep that one actor’s going to do anything substantially different from any other.  

The reviews of Jitney (the subject of my last play report, posted on 19 February) were close to unanimous—98% were positive and 2% (one notice) were mixed according to Show-Score, and all the reviewers essentially liked the same things and disliked the same things; they all had the same opinions about Wilson’s script and the acting and staging—but after this performance, I predicted that the reviews of Everybody will be all over the map.  The summary of the surveyed notices on Show-Score suggests I’m right about this (as we’re about to see).  

Based on 32 published reviews (as of 2 March) with an average total rating of 63, Show-Score tallied that 47% of the notices were positive, 31% were mixed, and 22% were negative.  63 is a low average among the productions I’ve checked on this site, but more significantly, the spread of review types is much more evenly dispersed than any I’ve encountered so far.  (There was only one 95, two 90’s, and three 85’s.  At the other end of the scale, there were three 35’s and three 45’s.)  All over the map it is, then.  (My survey will comprise 19 notices.  Many of the reviewers will have seen different combinations of actors and characters, all probably different from my own experience.)

Joe Dziemianowicz in the New York Daily News called Everybody a “talky, sometimes trying show” and remarked of the lottery that it’s “an interesting gambit, though more so for the cast than theatergoers.”  On NorthJersey.com, the website for the suburban Record of Bergen County, New Jersey, Robert Feldberg found, “There’s wit, humor and inventiveness in the play, . . . but pure allegory, with actors portraying generic figures and abstract ideas, is tough to keep aloft,” observing, “The point is elucidated at great length and with much repetition before” the play’s end.  Of the casting gag, Feldberg felt that “it must be an interesting challenge for the actors, but it comes across as an ‘in’ thing, of little matter to the audience.”  The New Jersey reviewer concluded, “‘Everybody’ descends into tedium well before it ends.” 

In the New York Times, Ben Brantley felt that “the seriously talented” Jacobs-Jenkins “seems to be running (and writhing) in place in” Everybody and the Timesman quipped that the play’s “prevailing tone” is “self-consciously whimsical and repetitive.”  Brantley’s assessment of the production was: “Much painstaking rehearsal and synchronization of cues, for the tech crew as well as the performers, has gone into ‘Everybody.’  Yet it still feels like a work in progress, waiting to be sharpened into focus.”  The review-writer suggested, “Perhaps this is appropriate to the idea of life itself as a perpetual work in progress,” but  added, “Still, there’s a sense of sustained thumb-twiddling that starts with the script.”  Each of Everybody’s encounters with his attributes “feels oppressively the same.”  In the end, Brantley concluded:

The entertainment value of “Everybody” as an acting exercise would probably be enhanced if you could see, well, everybody playing Everybody.  But that would require buying many tickets and sitting through many, many hours of people translating medieval ontology into arch latter-day vernacular, saying what is essentially the same thing again and again and again.

The Village Voice’s Miriam Felton-Dansky, labeling Everybody “intriguing, moving, and sometimes disappointing,” decided that Jacobs-Jenkins and Neugebauer are “reveling in allegory’s unabashedly presentational quality, and implicating spectators at every turn.”  Though director Neugebauer “stages the piece with precision and humor” and assembled an “excellent ensemble,” Felton-Dansky concluded, “It’s hard not to wish Jacobs-Jenkins had trusted his material, and his audience, a little more.”  In the New Yorker, Hilton Als felt, “Thinking about the original script while watching Jacobs-Jenkins’s adaptation is like listening to an expert d.j. play two records at once, and at different speeds.”  With Everybody, Als believes, “Jacobs-Jenkins has written a play about love—or, rather, a play that shows how impossible it is to write about love—” a subject the New Yorker journalist thinks “cannot be explained”—“and it fills the heart in a new and unexpected way.”  He was very taken with the dancing skeletons, which Als described as “electrified by eternal being.”  Going far beyond anything I took from the interlude, the New Yorker review-writer continued:

Those skeletons reminded me of Antonin Artaud’s writing from Mexico, where he did so much of his thinking about the theatre.  In a 1936 lecture, he noted, “For me, the essence of Surrealism was an affirmation of life against all caricatures.”  And it was in this surreal moment that, in my mind at least, all of us sitting in the theatre abandoned the beings we were supposed to be and became atomized into this lovely, wordless physical manifestation of a feeling that Jacobs-Jenkins couldn’t control with his considerable intellect but allowed to dance free in his considerable heart. 

In New York magazine, Jesse Green asserted, “The play is trenchant, certainly, and often quite moving,” but objected that “all [Jacobs-Jenkins’s] substitutions [have] the effect of turning the meaning of the play inside out.”  Noting that “Everybody is basically about the fear of death . . . .  Everyman is about the horror that awaits us after.”  Green continued, “Without dramatizing sin, you can’t have the Everyman plot . . . .  Without a common faith system, you can’t have the Everyman motive of correction.  All Jacobs-Jenkins can do with this marvelous dinosaur bone is shellac the surface with sarcasm and lower our expectations.”  In the end, the New York reviewer wrote, “Everybody offers only its destabilization, and a decidedly weak-tea moral.” 
“Apart from the cast’s charm and visual coups engineered by director Lila Neugebauer . . ., the 100-minute experiment feels overlong and talky,” reported David Cote in Time Out New York.  With the black-out interludes and other insertions, “the extra verbiage blunts any philosophical edge.”  Like me, the man from TONY found that “a ‘faithful’ revival of this theatrical fossil” was unnecessary but that “I’m not sure this slangy, digressive gloss adds much substance.”  Cote concluded, “Stranded between cosmic earnestness and a collegiate urge to interrogate weird old texts, Everybody has trouble holding onto a fixed identity.”  Marilyn Stasio of Variety advised of working with ancient sources, “Something is inevitably lost in adapting the material for a modern audience that has outgrown its fear and awe of hellfire and damnation.  But the story retains some power on a human level, and Jacobs-Jenkins plays up the randomness of death and the universality of the human condition” via the casting lottery. 

Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter put in his “Bottom Line”: “This ambitious production proves too self-consciously theatrical to be emotionally involving.”  He explained, “Despite clever moments, Everybody . . . proves a trial to sit through.”  Furthermore, the HR reviewer observed, “For all its artistic ambitions, Everybody turns out to be confusing and disjointed, filled with stylistic diversions that more often than not prove underwhelming.” Scheck caviled that the actors “sometimes have trouble with their lines” because of the casting gimmick (something I didn’t encounter, by the way), and except for a few stalwarts, “the ensemble is uneven at best.”  Neugebauer “does her best to involve the audience”; finally, however, “Everybody fails in its goal to make its themes universal and its centuries-old inspiration feel contemporary.  In the end, its overemphasis on self-conscious theatrical flourishes proves more distancing than immersive.” 

On CurtainUp, Elyse Sommer asserted that “the witty and inventive Jacob-Jenkins has put his own comic spin on” Everyman, which with the “versatile” cast and Neugebauer’s direction “manages to be a very much ‘now’ production.”  The CU reviewer labeled the play and production “cheeky, provocative and laugh-filled” and reported it’s “all very clever and audience involving.”  She concluded, “It should be said, however, that this whimsical sort of satire isn’t everyone’s coup-de-comic-riff.  For this viewer the humor ran thin early on, picked up with Burke’s arrival, but ultimately left me less satisfied with Everybody than the author’s previous plays.”  On New York Theater, Jonathan Mandell affirmed of Jacobs-Jenkins’s adaptation, “The idea here is inspired, and the world premiere production at the Signature can be inspiring; it even provoked some reflection on my own mortality.”  But though the play “can also be very funny,” Mandell deemed that “both the playwright and director Lila Neugebauer seem hell-bent on deliberately ‘destabilizing’ the story, making it less accessible.”  The cyber reviewer further complained, “The playwright also gives his characters too much to say that is digressive, repetitious or overlong,” asking, “What is the message here—that life is difficult and dreary, so this show will be too?”  His conclusion?  “The result of what seems to be a kind of creative over-thinking, though, is that unlike the aim of its 15th century source, ‘Everybody’ is not for everybody.”

Full of “admirable experiments,” Everybody, according to TheaterMania’s Zachary Stewart, “is at turns ambitious, witty, and a bit dull.”  The casting lottery, Stewart found, is “the most innovative aspect of this surprisingly tepid treatment of the story.”  Despite what the TM reviewer felt was “convincing” acting, he judged that “solid performances still don’t fully rescue the play from its didactic origins.”  He asserted, “Dress a medieval morality play up in 21st-century slang and it comes off sounding like a skit for incoming college freshman performed by the resident assistants of purgatory.”  Of Neugebauer’s staging, Stewart affirmed that “it is often very impressive,” but also noted that it never “quite rises to the tone set in” the early moments of the performance.  Stewart concluded, “Jacob-Jenkins cannot be accused of deviating from the morality play form to push his own agenda, but we really wish he would.  It would make for a far livelier and more challenging night at the theater.”  Characterizing the play as “a pretty raucous comedy that can remind us just how foolish, selfish, and childish people can be” on Theater Pizzazz, Brian Scott Lipton summed up his theater experience at Everybody by saying, “As much as I enjoyed most of the play, it can feel long.”

PJ Grisar decribed Everybody as “a rare play that uses theater, both its history and its practical reality, to make theater” on Stage Buddy.  Even with its “remarkable” cast, though, Grisar warned that the play “risks becoming, as it self-describes at one point, a ‘theater in-joke’”; nonetheless, our Stage Buddy deemed, “Everybody may be all things to all people, but I can’t imagine anybody not enjoying themselves and thinking a lot about it after they’ve been ushered off.”  (Maybe Grisar can’t, but I can . . . .)  On New York Theatre Guide, Tulis McCall wrote that Jacobs-Jenkins “pulls [Everyman], kicking and screaming, into a contemporary setting” to create Everybody.  She contended that the playwright “has created another circuitous and intriguing route for us to follow” and “takes no prisoners.  You either keep up with the pace or you fall off the wagon train.”  McCall observed, “One gets the feeling that Jacobs-Jennings doesn’t care either way because his eye is locked onto the trail ahead.”  Even though the “ensemble is consistent and tight,” McCall found that the “tale itself turns out to be unremarkable, which is disappointing.”  The NYTG reviewer summed up her assessment:

The journey of Everybody is clear, but it is interrupted by the whispers in the dark, the appearance and disappearance of the odd character, and of course the character raffle that begins the tale.  These elements feel unnecessary and border on being gimmicks.  They clutter our field of vision/concentration/spiritual connection.  They only serve to make the piece too clever by half and thus dilute the proceedings.

Matthew Murray contended on Talkin’ Broadway that Jacobs-Jenkins’s “highly egalitarian, contemporary retelling” of Everyman “wants to push as many of the original’s buttons as possible, while also offending as little as it can get away with.”  He had a problem, however, with Jacobs-Jenkins’s (and, really, Neugebauer’s) approach to the adaptation of the “unapologetically Catholic view of life, the universe, and everything” that is Everyman, particularly with the casting of Burke as Death.  “A production that makes you long to jump into the grave alongside her [Death], though, is somewhat missing the point,” proclaimed Murray.  “Okay, it’s a lot missing the point.”  In Everyman, Death “is the terrifying enemy; God is the only one who can save us,” instructed Murray, but in Everybody, “Death acts and sounds like a better traveling companion than He does.”  Furthermore, the TB blogger explained, God, despite Bioh’s efforts, “feels designed as a non-presence throughout.”  Murray felt that “neither [Jacobs-Jenkins] nor his director, Lila Neugebauer, can overcome this fundamental flaw” at the core of the play.  Declaring that “Everybody doesn’t do much more but crumble in slow motion,” the cyber reviewer concluded that “when you’re not focusing on how to make your experience better because Death is reminding you of how great it already is, the message that comes through doesn’t remotely seem like one anyone would want to send.”

Dubbing the play “fun and breezy” with “a tad of zaniness,” Michael Dale explained the show on Broadway World this way:

In its day, EVERYMAN scared good Catholics onto a righteous path.  In director Lila Neugebauer’s slick and irreverent production, Jacobs-Jenkins seems more content with riffing on old-time religion by replacing the fear of God with the humorous acceptance of life’s disappointments.

But, of course, that may be the point in only one of the production’s 120 variations.

Steven Suskin suspects that descriptions of Jacobs-Jenkins Everybody “might well leave you feeling a bit hesitant about an evening’s proffered entertainment,” but on the Huffington Post, the reviewer countered, “Get over it, and get over to . . . Everybody.  This is theatre rather unlike anything you might have seen.”  Suskin labeled the play “unusual, unconventional and eye-opening” and warned that, like Everyman, it’s “no barrel of laughs, being a morality play about death,” adding, “but it is not only provocative and involving, it is also funny.  Wildly funny, in fact.”  Director Neugebauer “does a wonderful job,” reported the HP review-writer, and “the cast does wonderfully well.”  As a conclusion, Suskin recounted a brief anecdote about Bioh’s usher’s preamble at the top of the performance, after which “a patron behind me blurted out ‘I hope the play is as good as she is.’  As it turned out, Jacobs-Jenkins and his Everybody is very good indeed.”

On radio station WNYC, a New York City outlet for National Public Radio, Jennifer Vanasco asserted that the casting lottery “gives the play an impromptu, seat-of-the pants energy that’s combined with a meditative, repetitive quality that adds heft and makes ‘Everybody’ feel almost like a religious ritual.”  “There’s a sketched-in plot,” noted Vanasco, which “might all be a dream—or it might not.  Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins hints, but doesn’t tell.” 

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