Arts theater review

‘Everybody’ loved MTA’s performance

MIT Theater Arts presents ‘Everybody’

Jacob Jenkins’ Everybody
Directed by Anna Kohler
W97 Theater
Nov. 9–11, 16–18

Jacob Jenkins’s Everybody was written last year but opened with an homage to Jedermann, a play written by Hugo von Hoffmannsthal and first performed in 1911, whose beginnings date back to the 15th century play Everyman. Its story following “everybody” on their paths to the grave has spoken to crowds since the time the play was performed on the steps of the Salzburg Cathedral in Austria. Opening with this historical basis, the narrator tells us of the nature of the play to come — it was meant to appeal to the masses and hold a message for everyone who witnessed the performance. However, it is one thing to describe such a phenomenon and quite another to impact us after the metaphorical curtains close. Everybody did both in a miraculous way that transformed a somewhat unrelatable excerpt into a wonderful, comical performance.

The most impressive piece of the performance was its ability to transcend the play’s intentions. The topics of morality plays are often heavy, dealing with old and immortal ideas of death, deeds, and hell, but the MTA incorporates themes reminiscent of the Day of the Dead, reflecting the Mexican tradition of celebrating death with music, dancing, and strobe lights. Appropriate comic relief gave levity to darker scenes and left the deeper message and the existential monologues with the audience long after the end of the performance.

The new Theater Arts building W97 boasted magnificence and brought in audience members; the crowd eagerly watching Jedermann in front of a giant projection of the cathedral sat alongside the actors and actresses as the entire physical landscape shifted. Blurring the distinction between audience and cast did well to parallel the blurring of the distinction of reality and illusion that Everybody emphasized.

Put in the words of Tooba Shahid, who played an Everybody/Somebody, “[i]t’s ironic how the opening play of the newly built theatre building at W97, the start of a new chapter for the Music and Theatre Arts Department at MIT, was about death, the very end. Knowing my director, Anna Kohler, I imagine that this irony was intended. Over a period of two months, this play and the people associated with it have taught me life-changing lessons about duality, relationships, the transient nature of life, but perhaps most importantly, about love, for others and one’s own self.”

The cast did an excellent job emulating characters we find difficult to personify, like Love and Friendship. Each night, a drawing of straws chooses a new “Everybody” on the spot. The night I was in the audience, Grace Kuffner ’20 was chosen as our Everybody, and her performance was notable in that she seemed tailored for the role, not randomly chosen, speaking to the versatility of the entire cast. Thanks to them, their director, and the crew that put the performance together and made it beautiful to behold, Everybody led to a moment’s reflection and a unique experience for all.