Fresh Eyes on EVERYBODY, 6th Installment
EVERYBODY opened on Saturday, December 1st. After four short weeks of preparing for the complexities of the play -- roles assigned by lottery, choreography, intense technological aspects -- the show is ready for you!
Artists Rep is grateful to our wonderful Fresh Eyes observers, Cynthia Herrup and Matthew Minicucci, who shared their time and thoughtful perspectives with our wider community. We have enjoyed seeing the process through their eyes, and hope that you have as well.
And Then I Woke Up
For the first time in my life, I attended a play (the same play) three times in one week. Yes, my partner Elizabeth and I took in the first preview, the final preview, and opening night, last night, December 1st. Walking through a windy Portland evening, I commented on this very idea: watching a play over and over and over. Reprise, much to my surprise. This repetition, of course, in addition to seeing each of these disparate pieces (text, movement, puppetry, lighting, sound, etc.) soldered together again and again over the course of the last month. I can say, quite confidently, that this is a play that demands re-watching. And, perhaps more important, it rewards that re-watching.
Over the course of the three showings, I saw EVERYBODY played first by John San Nicolas (on the first night of previews), and then Michael Mendelson for the last two nights. I had (secretly) hoped to see three separate performers play the title role, but that’s how the (literal) ball bounces. One of the most shocking aspects of the movement through this week of previews is just how much everything changes in such a small amount of time. First preview was both a magical unveiling of this beautiful play, and a hodgepodge of small issues (missed spotlight here, dropped sound cue there). As the cast left the stage to intense applause at the end of first preview, I saw Co-Director Dámaso Rodríguez sprint over to Sound Designer Phil Johnson, who was seated right in front of me. Immediately, the butterflies and excitement of the preview melted into “shop-talk,” and how to improve on the performance.
Speaking with Dámaso again, a week later, during the final preview, he told me that every single day of that week they had used every minute of their allotted rehearsal time, in an effort to sand down each sharp edge still sticking out here and there. And all of this hard work was effective, as each time I saw the play, there were material differences in what could be done with lighting, sound, and staging. I think, perhaps, I never realized that the “product” I associate so much with the theater is so much more a “process.” Here’s what we want to do, here’s the text, here are the actors, working through every permutation with their director(s), and here is the entire crew working to make that vision come to life. I thought, foolishly, when it was done, it was done. But now I see, it’s never really done.
Though I want this post to be a “spoiler-free” zone, I do want to talk about the play itself a bit. There were so many moving parts, including the actors themselves, it was hard for me to fully imagine what the finished product would look like. But so many perfect touches flourished, especially in the opening night performance. For example, Michael Mendelson, stripped down to his underwear by Falynn Burton’s irritated LOVE (again, literally), finds himself spent. He’s “angry at his body’s changing.” He surrenders. This is a play about “life and its transience,” as Sarah Lucht’s character reminds us, and the notion of how to stage the slow process of death is fascinating. You can see, for example, all the guidance of Co-Director Jessica Wallenfels in the perfect body control shown by the ensemble. Mendelson has a moment, wrapped tightly with LOVE in the middle of the stage’s labyrinth, where he reaches his hands out, left, then right, and lifts his chest to the sky. He turns slightly stage left, looking upward at this hazy, foggy, fading orange light. It’s perfect. It’s poetry. I might even go as far as to say: it’s a Botticelli.
One of the most important things to emerge, for me, from being a part of this whole rehearsal process, was watching how the play (this play in particular) brought together every idiosyncrasy of its text and stage direction to make a very specific point. Though there’s a lot of humor, and intrigue, and even madness in the “lottery” aspect of which ensemble member will play EVERYBODY, there’s also the real, lived-in understanding that each of these actors needs to not only know “their” part, but all their colleagues’ parts. Because, in the end, there is no “their” part. Every part is everybody’s part. This sounds nice on the page, and nice (perhaps) in a blog post, but most important: it’s true. Like each audience member, three different nights over the last week, I’m left with this understanding, like a carefully folded jacket left for all to see. That is: the only way that Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ EVERYBODY works is if every actor truly becomes EVERYBODY. Not just memorizing all the lines, not just understanding all the movements, but being willing to endure the confusion, the uncharted possibilities, the haunting uncertainties of each performance. This amazing group of actors had to understand all the sacrifices a play like this calls for; and then they had to take up, of their own volition, all these crosses each of them (and all of them) were asked to bear.