‘Everybody’ is Flippant and Fatally Funny

Seven performers dressed as skeletons on a dimly lit stage. It is the cast of Everybody produced by DAN School of Drama and Music.
DAN School of Drama and Music’s Everybody.

An immersive student production transforms the Isabel Bader Centre’s studio theatre into a site of divine reckoning. Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ Everybody is a contemporary adaptation of the 15th-century morality play Everyman. A popular genre in medieval and early Tudor theatre, morality plays typically feature personifications of abstract concepts alongside angels, demons, and an ordinary human protagonist. In Everyman, one man—representing all of humanity—goes on an allegorical journey through the afterlife, addressing human deeds, good and evil, and the attainment of salvation. In Everybody, this exploration of the immortal soul has been refashioned to serve a modern god: the god of irreverent humour. This spirited staging of Everybody is a production of the DAN School of Drama and Music directed by Dr. Kelsey Jacobson. 

In Everybody, most of the actors are assigned their roles randomly in an onstage lottery—or so we are led to believe. In a coy aside, God (Devon Sweeney) calls the lottery’s legitimacy into question, which made me wonder. This feels fitting—what is the role of God if not to inspire wonder? However, the program offers a reassuring “yes, really!” from dramaturg Olivia Teti, and I can’t think of anybody more trustworthy than a dramaturg. Thus, I’m inclined to say I believe that the casting is random, even if, deep down, I remain agnostic. 

As God, Sweeney serves Joel Grey in Cabaret realness with sardonic quips and piercing—almost frightening—smiles. As Friendship, Cassidy Collins offers a playful send-up of the Valley Girl (or, dare I say, Queen’s Girl?) trope: “You guys, my friend is literally dying.” Aiden Robert Bruce has some hilarious moments as Kinship, and Erin Piggott embodies the role of Cousin with enthusiasm. My favourite performance is Sainsha Lall as Stuff—she’s just so cool. Her costume is elegant, she has the attitude of an ice-cold ex-girlfriend, and she holds her sunglasses like they’re an extension of her body. 

In some scenes, the show uses audio of pre-recorded lines spoken by the titular Everybody (last night, this was Acacia Gifford) while four other actors—Julia Tsotsos, Maysaa Alikhan, Madelena Byrnell, and Ava Preston, all playing characters called “Somebody”—lip sync along. It seems like the idea is to have Everybody’s voice come out of everybody’s mouths, but the Somebodies don’t always nail the timing. This results in a bit of an out-of-sync TikTok vibe, which distracts from the content of the monologues. Beyond the issue of execution, the choice to use pre-recorded audio strikes me as one that needlessly strips the actors of their individuality as performers—though maybe that’s the point. This is, after all, Everybody. Individuality is irrelevant. That said, in the scenes where the Somebodies speak in their own voices, Tsotsos stands out with killer comedic delivery.

The show doesn’t get too profound in its existential pondering, but it is profoundly entertaining. Audiences are likely to find the script’s flippant take on death equally funny and disconcerting. To me, it was funnier than anything else, but I suspect my relationship with mortality is a little cozier than most. Despite its subject matter, Everybody didn’t have me thinking any more deeply about my life than usual. I found Teti’s program notes thought-provoking, perhaps more so than any lines in the actual play. 

This may be a problem with the morality play as a genre—because the play is about Everybody, it’s about nobody in particular. Since Everybody doesn’t threaten the audience with fire and brimstone, it loses the fear factor that existed for Everyman’s 15th-century audiences. The characters represent such broad concepts that it’s hard to draw anything emotionally substantial from the story. As a 21st-century theatregoer, these personalities strike me as surface-level. 

Everybody may not be for everybody, but if you’re not dying for depth, this show might be for you. The DAN School takes a play that’s a little gimmicky and runs with it, and I was happy to give them 90 minutes of my life to join the journey. For those who have the time and the stomach for morbid humour, I recommend catching Everybody at the Isabel this weekend. 

DAN School of Drama and Music’s production of ‘Everybody’ closes March 19 and more information can be found here.

This article was edited on December 1st, 2023 to update formatting.