Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' uproarious and poignant satire Everybody is, as its title suggests, about all of us—everybody in the world. Yet rather than cram billions of people onto a stage, the play is powered by an ingenious conceit—one actor plays a character named Everybody, who serves as the embodiment of humankind. If you don't think that sounds bold enough, consider this: Everybody, and several other roles, are randomly assigned to cast members during each performance.
It's an idea that, with the wrong director or actors, could wind up being too bizarre to work. Yet under the direction of Jessica Wallenfels and Dámaso Rodríguez, Artists Repertory Theatre's production of Everybody taps into the play's finest elements—its satirical verve and potent reckoning with mortality.
Everybody, which was inspired by the 15th-century morality play Everyman, begins with an usher in a blue wig (Sarah Lucht) playfully reminding people in the audience to turn off their phones. She soon transforms into God, who is dismayed by humanity's failings. Enter Death (Ted Rooney), whom God commands to kill Everybody so that he or she can deliver a presentation on how he or she has lived life and why. Chastened and terrified, Everybody (who was played by Sara Hennessy at the performance I attended) appeals to concepts like Friendship (Barbie Wu), Kinship (John San Nicolas) and Stuff (Michael Mendelson) to accompany her to meet Death, though there is no returning.
The cast beautifully milks these interactions for laughs. Hennessy infuses Everybody with marvelous gusto and self-pity, particularly in a scene in which she bellows, "It was all meaningless!" and melodramatically collapses on the floor. Equally compelling are the other actors who participate in the play's version of musical chairs for casting, including Mendelson as Stuff. The moment when the character announces with smarmy cheer, "I have this problem where, apparently, I just destroy humans," is one of the highlights of the show.
Yet behind the play's irresistible goofiness is a troubling question—what really matters when there is nothing standing between you and death? The play doesn't deliver any straightforward answers, but a scene in which Everybody meets Love (Falynn Burton, resplendent in a maroon robe) persuasively argues that facing the end will require more humility and bravery than the human race currently displays.
Given the constant shuffling of the cast, no two performances of Everybody will be the same. What will remain consistent, however, is the commitment of Wallenfels, Rodríguez and the cast to capture our species at both its best and most execrable. Everybody, in other words, triumphs because it is about everything—from vanity to compassion to greed to the hope of redemption, even as the promise of death looms.
SEE IT: Everybody is at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., artistsrep.org. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Friday, 2:30 and 7:30 pm Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 26-30. $10-$60.