Credit: Zach Dries

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has written about death before. His Gloria
deals with the after-effects of an office shooting. His Appropriate focuses on the secrets of a newly deceased white
southerner. But Jacobs-Jenkins’s Everybody doesn’t merely concern
death. It concerns Death. An update on the 16th-century morality play Everyman, this finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize follows a
human soul through her encounter with the honest-to-God Grim Reaper.

The soul in Everyman experiences the medieval equivalent of
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief, running through various
emotions and tactics before arriving at understanding and submission. The
essence of mortality having changed remarkably little over the last 500
years, so does the soul in Everybody. Confronted by the Angel of
Death (who, as portrayed by Kenny the Bearded in Erin Shea Brady’s staging
for Brown Paper Box Company, presents as something more like the Hipster of
Death), Everybody can’t forestall oblivion itself but gains Death’s promise
that she can bring along anyone willing to accompany her. You can guess how
well that goes as she puts the question to family and friends.

Where Everybody differs most significantly from Everyman
is in attitude. The earlier play is as grim as the Reaper. Jacobs-Jenkins
makes his version playful and idiomatic to the point of cutesiness.
Gimmicks start even before the show, with ensemble members casting lots for
who will play Everybody (I saw the excellent Alys Dickerson) as well as
other characters in a given performance. There’s a manically chummy
narrator, audience plants, broad comedy, and daily-affirmation-style
wisdom. While the result can be amusing at times, it’s also overbearing,
with notes of condescension. The starkest passage is the best: Everybody
standing by her grave, getting deserted by Beauty, Strength, the Mind, and
the Senses. That’s death.   v