Fresh Eyes on EVERYBODY, 5th Installment
It's Preview Week and the last finishing touches are being put on EVERYBODY. The technical aspects have been worked out and for the most part are working smoothly, and the actors are gaining more and more confidence, clarity and subtlety. Now, finally, the last ingredients are added: the audience and their reactions. Our wonderful Fresh Eyes volunteer, Cynthia Herrup, was in the audience on Tuesday evening and shares her observations here.
Since this is the season of thanks, let me begin this last post by thanking Luan Schooler for running Fresh Eyes and everyone involved in EVERYBODY for allowing outsider observers to report on their rehearsals and eat their snacks. It has been a wonderful experience, one that I highly recommend to anyone interested in Artists Rep or theater more generally.
I was in the audience this past Tuesday evening, facing the audience from one of the two dozen or so seats onstage. This inverted the perspective I was used to: some things, like the opening of the grave, lost their impact, but others, like the collective walk with Death, had more power. Another benefit of this perspective watching members of the creative team scattered at different viewing angles among the audience, working through the performance—listening, watching, taking notes, no doubt considering how to make a great production even better.
I was surprised to realize how much essential stuff I had not seen (or not taken in) before this performance: the danse macabre, the moving props/sets, the use of medieval lines in the conclusion. The rehearsals naturally focused on the most complex roles—the five Somebodies; the play in action relies as well on an equal number of more straightforward parts--Understanding, Death, Love, Evil and Time. And while I had seen three different actors as EVERYBODY, the role Tuesday fell to a fourth, Barbie Wu. This helped bring home to me how deeply the lottery affects the drama and how critical it is to have found a cast with equivalent yet different skills.
The end result is a performance both amusing and sobering. The original version was intended to scare and comfort Christians; the Jacobs-Jenkins reworking can still do that, or act as a more ironic reassurance. ‘God’ is always in scare quotes; Understanding is bewildered throughout; Death says things will be “okay” but how and why are unexplored. Damaso Rodriguez and Jessica Wallenfels have pulled together the perfect antidote to holiday saccharinity: a play that provokes us to count our blessings but to question them as well. Thank you.