By Emily Taylor-Madrid
It is an inevitable reality that our existence will one day come to an end. With morbid curiosity, humans have often sought to explore this afterlife.
Now through Sunday, Nov. 21st in the Wertheim Performing Arts Center’s Black Box, FIU Theatre will take audiences on a journey of love, life and loss as experienced within Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ modernized morality play, Everybody.
Adapted from the 15th-century play Everyman, its original purpose was to present the lesson that one should renounce sin and settle into goodness to attain a heavenly afterlife. Jacobs-Jenkins’ adaptation takes this concept into the 21st-century by abandoning that idea of right and wrong to instead focus on the humanity of coming to terms with the end of one’s life.
“After what we’ve been through, we are so aware of our limits, everyone has had to redefine their values,” says the show’s director and associate professor of theatre, Michael Yawney.
Living in a time of COVID, when devastation and disease defined reality and separation became the norm, Yawney believes that Everybody presents a necessary narrative.
“The character of Everybody goes to everything that they think is valuable expecting each to guarantee a safe transition into the next world," Yawney says. "However, Everybody realizes that the things they value most aren’t actually valuable at all. So they must reevaluate what those things are that remain during one’s final moments.”
Therefore, death is presented not in a macabre manner. Rather, in such a way that both actors and audiences might find joy in the end.
Laney Rodriguez and Kat Galvez are two of five actors in the role of Somebodies who take on a variety of parts in each performance, including the title character of Everybody.
Both actors hope audiences have fun. Galvez also wants audiences to explore the concepts of relationships and self.
“But most importantly," notes Rodriguez, "I hope they take away this sense of urgency to live life to the fullest."
To showcase the random quality of death, Jacobs-Jenkins leaves the decision of who plays what character up to chance. This decision is one which audiences get to observe in action, as casting is selected by an on-stage lottery during the show. Hence, the version of the play you see is just one out of 120 possible variations.
“As an actor, it is so special to be able to experience that message about the randomness of life and death with the audience every performance,” says Rodriguez.
This close relationship between actor and audience is one which scenic designer Josh Gibson sought to highlight in his design.
The stage is set with hanging rustic beams creating a decrepit attic space housing those memories, people and things that Everybody so desperately clings to.
“Attics often represent all of those pieces from our past,” says Gibson. “As a scenic designer, I design the way that the space makes you feel. And so, I would like the audience to feel as if they are existing as a part of Everybody’s history.”
With seating set in the round at a reduced capacity, the intimacy of Gibson’s design is further felt by audiences.
The show opens tonight at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center and will play through Nov. 21. Although the run is currently sold out, a limited amount of rush tickets might be available for purchase at the door before every performance.
Visit FIU Theatre’s website or call the Box Office at 305-348-0548, for more information.