In an interview with the New York Times in 2014, playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins divulged that his father had “been obsessed with his death for a very long time.”
“I think I get that fixation, constantly imagining the world after you’re gone,” Jacobs-Jenkins said. “But now I’m making peace with the notion that maybe no one will care when you’re gone. That this is what life in some way is about, not having a carbon footprint.”
Jacob-Jenkins addresses his own fixation — and humanity’s existential fears — around death in his 2018 Pulitzer-nominated play Everybody, now currently in production here in Boulder by The Catamounts at the Dairy Arts Center through Oct. 12.
Jacob-Jenkins’ play is based on the late-15th century morality play Everyman, which itself was based on an ancient Buddhist fable. Each of these stories uses allegorical characters to get us to ponder the meaning of life and the nature of death, but where ancient versions took a somber approach, Jacobs-Jennkins knows that humor is the oil of life’s engine.
Everybody is a natural fit for The Cats’ out-of-the-box approach to theater; the lead character, Everybody, is determined each night by lottery (an impossible-to-miss metaphor), giving rise to a possible 120 unique variations of the play. In an ensemble of nine, five cast members memorized nearly all of the play.
While Jacobs-Jenkins provides almost no parameters on casting (Death should be the oldest company member, while Time should be a young woman), director Julie Rada took great pains to ensure The Cats’ cast was diverse. Rada’s diverse cast plays into Jacobs-Jenkins’ witty (if minor) commentary about race and the way we talk about it, with the tone of the commentary changing depending on who fills the lead role on a given evening.
“Because we live in what I believe is a white supremacist culture that has taught us to see people differently, we do see [certain] bodies on stage differently when they’re playing these roles,” Rada says. “It’s really important to then have that person be saying, ‘This body is just meat.’”
But Everybody is about much more than race (a topic often foisted onto Jacobs-Jenkins’ work, for better or worse, because he’s a black man). Everybody is about life, and ultimately death, and therefore it’s about everything in-between. Through humor, wit and honesty, Everybody takes on existential dread in the most charming way possible.
And not to spoil the ending, but everybody dies.
‘Everybody’ — presented by The Catamounts.
Dairy Arts Center, Carsen Theater, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Through Oct. 12.