For the Fall 2022 season, the Central Theatre Ensemble presents Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Dr. Emily Rollie. The college troupe is comprised of students at Central Washington University pursuing one of the various undergraduate theatre degrees offered. In, Everybody, Death confronts Everybody. The thought of dying alone scares Everybody, who desperately searches for a companion to join them in the afterlife. Despite the grim premise, the show is hilarious. At time of writing, the remaining shows are December 1-3 at 7:30PM and December 4 at 2:00PM.
Everybody is a modern retelling of the 15th-century morality play Everyman, which was based on Buddhist fables. Unpacking relationships and searching for meaning is now told through comedic catharsis. Character dialogue and issues referenced are updated to be relevant today. Still, the play confronts the meaning of life at the very end of everybody’s life.
In the program, director Rollie asks, “What is a life ‘well lived’?” Rollie was struck by this play’s fluidity and reoccurring themes: “Like this play, our journey is often surprising, and events of life destabilize our preconceived notions of what ‘should’ be.” She invites the audience to consider how the equalizer of death can “help us be more understanding of others in life.”
Rather than on stage in an auditorium, Everybody is performed in the black box theatre. The space is intimate and immersive. The audience sits surrounding a circular space in the center of the room. On the floor are multi-chrome rocks and swirling patterns. The Usher enters and politely asks the audience to silence their phones, set down their purses, and eat their last snacks and sips of water. Without the audience knowing, the play has already started. The lights dim and characters begin to enter and exit from the four corners of the room.
What separates Everybody from other plays is its lottery system. The Usher brings out a raffle cage with little sealed papers inside. At the beginning of the show, five performers draw a slip lottery style. Inside is the role they will perform that night. In preparation, those five cast members, known as Somebodies, have memorized the entire script and blocking. As a result, every performance’s casting is unique. The Somebodies disappear and we slowly discover who is playing Everybody, Friendship, Cousin, Kinship, and Stuff as those characters are revealed, denoted by new costumes.
I spoke with Mason Sallee, a student double majoring in Theatre Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, about his experience as a Somebody in Everybody. He described to me how eight weeks of rehearsals went into the final product. The lottery was in place during rehearsal, too, which made it difficult to practice each role regularly. As a Somebody, Mason is playing a role and is simultaneously an understudy for four roles. Some scenes even required them to study three characters at once. When I asked Mason how he prepares for a new role, he emphasized analysis: “I dive right into the text before getting it on its feet so that I know what I am saying.” He admitted that strategy can cause rigidity, and he is working to get out of his head and body when acting. His favorite role out of the Somebodies is Everybody. Throughout the play, Everybody asks major questions about existence, which Mason relates to. “I found myself asking so many of those same questions during quarantine,” he said. In a moment of vulnerability and liberation, that made me cry, Everybody surrenders their body to Love, an act Mason likens to finding and accepting his gender identity. While I have not seen Mason play Everybody, I did see his portrayal of Kinship. I was impressed by his convincing facial expressions and hand gestures that grounded the character but still emphasized personality.
For shared laughs, existential crises, and phenomenal acting, I cannot recommend enough Everybody as put on by Mason and others in the Central Theatre Ensemble. Current shows and a link to tickets can be found on their website. Only a few performances left!