Story by Yashowanto Ghosh, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of Andris Visockis
Aquinas College Theatre finished its 2018–2019 season with five shows (April 11-13) of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Everybody,” which was a finalist for last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Jacobs-Jenkins has been a rising star in American theatre since “Gloria,” which premiered Off-Broadway in 2015 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2016, the same year that the playwright won a MacArthur Genius Grant. In “Everybody,” he works with the allegorical morality play “Everyman” from the 15th century—and I thought his version makes an important innovation in the idiom of theatre.
The first unconventional aspect the audience notices is that all the players come from among the audience when they first join the stage. The Usher (Lauren Heyboer) actually worked as an usher, handing me the program when I entered the theatre just minutes before the show started, and the remaining characters sat dispersed in the rows before their respective first scenes.
But that by itself would hardly count as radical—the stage saw it almost 100 years ago in some productions of Luigi Pirandello’s “Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore” (“Six Characters in Search of an Author”), for example. The important new step in “Everybody” is that five of its players—the Somebodies, played by Fatima Bawah, Emily Cipriano, Kaeleb Cogswell, Bryanna Lee, and Ian Reul—randomly pick, in the middle of each show, which of five different characters each of them must play for that show.
Thus each of these five actors learned five different parts, and any combination of casting is possible for those five parts on any given show. One of the five randomly assigned parts is the title character, so the randomization serves to drive home the play’s point that what we see on stage could really happen to anyone—this is the important new advance Jacobs-Jenkins makes beyond the 15th-century version. On opening night, Kaeleb Cogswell, whom we had already seen in a title role in “A Year with Frog and Toad” earlier, was Everybody.
Still, there is the drawback that a member of the audience who watches the show just once need not necessarily believe that the roles are really being distributed at random. The innovation, however, meant that the production used the entire theatre—as opposed to just using the stage—and had more than enough energy and enthusiasm to infect the weeknight audience.
Yashowanto Ghosh is a senior with a major in English with a writing emphasis and a minor in Japanese. Jasho is also an alumnus of Aquinas (B.A. German ’11, B.A. Communications ’17).