ashland.news
July 23, 2024

Pulitzer finalist ‘Everybody’ concludes SOU theater season

Tegan Kelley (Death), from left, Connor Lomeli (Somebody), and Rachel Engh (Love) are featured in a cast of 13 in SOU's final play of the 2022-23 season, "Everybody," a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Drama League nominee for outstanding Broadway or Off-Broadway play. Marvin Walder photo
May 23, 2023

Adaptation of the morality play ‘Everyman’ will have eight performances from May 25 to June 4

By Jim Flint for Ashland.news

Death will be coming for “Everybody” May 25 through June 4 at the Southern Oregon University Main Stage Theatre. But no worries if you’re in the audience.

“Everybody,” written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins in 2017, is adapted from the 15th century Catholic morality play “Everyman.” There will be eight performances of the SOU theater season finale, including matinee and evening shows.

Selected by SOU theater professor Jackie Apodaca, the play is an SOU directorial debut for Vaun Monroe, an assistant SOU professor in digital cinema and an award-winning international director of theater and film.

“In ‘Everybody,’ we find the protagonist in an existential crisis,” Monroe said. “When summoned by God, Everybody, motivated by fear of death and solitude, tries to find someone to die with them, so they won’t be alone in the afterlife.”

When the play fell into Monroe’s hands post-pandemic, he saw it as a happy accident.

“It came across like a post-apocalyptic science fiction story,” he said. “It reminded me of two of my most formative artistic influences, Rod Serling (‘The Twilight Zone’) and Gene Rodenberry (‘Star Trek’).”

Many of the play’s thematic concerns are the core of self-examination, about purpose and meaning of life and about how people are connected to the world.

“I found the play’s message to be profound,” Monroe said, “in a nation where we seem caught in a spiritual malaise.”

“Everybody” is known for its unique casting process in which actors draw lots just before each performance to determine their roles. The SOU performances reflect a hybrid approach.

“Some of the roles are played by the same actors for the duration of the play,” Monroe said. “Those roles we’ve come to call the ‘deities.’ The various roles of the ‘somebodies’ are assigned with a randomizer instead of a lottery, but the impact is the same.”

He believes those in the randomized roles have a challenging and transformative experience in being forced to walk in someone else’s shoes when they switch characters.

“One of the most interesting things to me is that a choice one actor makes in a role may be different from another’s, but each is authentic,” he said.

Those actors must memorize the entire script and be prepared to play any of many roles. This is meant to symbolize the randomness of death.

In the original play, the protagonist is granted redemption and salvation from eternal damnation by an Old Testament God. Monroe tried to get a handle on what could be the equivalent of hell to a modern audience.

“Once I settled on that equivalent being perpetual isolation, my directorial decisions just flowed,” he said.

What does Monroe hope audiences take away from the performance?

“How radical would it be for us to love one another and our planet while shunning selfish exploitation of people and resources? I’d be overjoyed if the audience can receive and act on that message.”

The cast of 13 SOU students features Jodie Chapin, Tegan Kelley, Rachel Engh, Daphne Cowlin, Tim Turner, Wyatt Fisher, Connor Lomeli, Emma Richardson and Siena Schofield.

Chapin, a junior theater major, plays the roles of God, Usher and Understanding.

“Since the only actual ‘person’ I’m playing is Usher, it’s been challenging to find the right approach to the other two roles,” she said. She often finds aspects of characters occurring to her during the day and she brings them to that night’s rehearsal.

Usher is “in charge” of the play. The illusion that she is a real usher gives her authority within the theater space. However, an usher is also a low-level cog in the theater machine, keeping the actual power hierarchy of the theater hidden — and the metaphor plays out on stage.

Engh, 23, a Bachelor of Fine Arts student with a focus on performing and a minor in Shakespeare studies, plays Love, who helps Everybody understand that blaming others for misfortunes will not solve problems.

“I feel truly connected to this play’s message,” she said, “that what you do to the world and others around you is what you will be remembered for.”

She says the challenge of the role is in representing all types of love.

“It’s quite tricky finding the subtle differences and making sure they come through without seeming cheesy or cliché,” she said.

Performances begin at 8 p.m. May 25-27 and June 1-3, and at 2 p.m. June 3 and 4. Shows run just over 100 minutes. The play is rated PG-13 for language and difficult content. Strobe lights are used in the production.

Tickets are $20 for reserved seating, $15 for senior citizens. They are available online at sou.universitytickets.com or can be purchased in person at the box office (491 S. Mountain Ave., Ashland) Monday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m., or call 541-552-6348.

Reach writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

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