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Tuesday, Mar 28, 2023

“Everybody” raises hell in Wright Memorial Theatre

Based on the 15th-century morality play “Everyman,” each character in the Middlebury Department of Theatre’s production of “Everybody,” a play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, seeks to personify a worldly value. Presented live by a company of actors and dancers, “Everybody” was performed for a limited in-person audience from May 13 to 16, and will be available for streaming until May 21. 

At its crux, “Everybody” follows Meili Huang ’23 in the title role (Everybody), on a quest issued by Death, played by Gabrielle Martin ’21.5. In creating a final presentation of their lifetime prior to meeting Death, Everybody aspires to recruit a few followers on the way.

The play begins with Devon Hunt ’23, dressed as an usher and ready to issue your typical pre-show warnings. The kicker is that they punctuate each instruction with a zesty rebuke and remain onstage, just as the “voice of God” comes into play. Here, Everybody takes an early step into the reflexive, ready to confuse and bewilder the audience as they blur the line between fact and fiction. It’s unclear whether Hunt is an usher for the show or in the show, but perhaps that’s the daring charm.

There is no end to the confusion as Everybody continues onwards. We encounter Friendship (Teddy Best ’22), Kinship (Vivian Zagotta ’24)  and even Time (Irith Fuks ’21.5). Phenomenal lighting and sound design add to the purposefully vague performances, blending together the dances and monologues of what felt like fifty different voices. Even when the audience is “evacuated” outside due to a diegetic fire drill, the scenes blend seamlessly into one another. Huang stuns in her performance as Everybody, traversing the enthusiasm, confusion and anger that come with dealing with death.

Events come to a head after Everybody confronts Stuff (Katelyn Wenkoff ’24). Stuff best represents the jokingly reflexive nature of this play, criticizing human consumption with hilarious poses and lines. In a frenzy, Everybody grows desperate and breaks down, deciding to go the route alone. At this point, Love (Masha Makutonina ’21) appears. Like much of the cast, Love begins as part of the audience and first breaks her silence by threatening to leave, only for Everybody to earn her back. The trip to Death is now well underway, and the show accelerates rapidly, ascending to an outdoor rendition of the “Danse Macabre.”

In a flurry of neon lights, the cast of “Everybody” makes its rounds outside. Dancers dressed in black spin around the audience. It is never specified whether they are meant to represent life or spirit, but the energy they put off is irrefutable. Bringing vivacity to the piece, the rendition of the “Danse Macabre” is stunningly interpretive. Situated outside, “Everybody” cleverly utilizes its surroundings to craft the story and involve the audience.

When we, the “everybody” of the audience, encounter the big questions in life, accepting universals like death or solitude can be daunting. But the cast of “Everybody,” and its eponymous main character, navigated these questions with ease.