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Cal Shakes Performs "Everybody"

Cal Shakes’ thought-provoking new play—written by a rising theater star—gives life’s eternal questions a heartwarming twist.


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A scene from a 2017 production of "Everybody," staged at New York’s Signature Theatre.

Photo by Monique Carboni

Orinda’s California Shakespeare Theater proclaims that it reinterprets the classics in “vital and urgent ways.” That should be vividly on display in Everybody, a play based on a play that was performed a century before Shakespeare—now transformed by a writer the Los Angeles Times called “a trailblazing new talent.”

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is that writer, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and a MacArthur “genius” fellow. His 2014 play, An Octoroon, drew raves last year at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Now, Cal Shakes is giving Jacobs-Jenkins’ Everybody its West Coast premiere this summer, in a production directed by Nataki Garrett.

Jacobs-Jenkins—whom The New Yorker described as “a cerebral dramatist” and The Guardian deemed “one of America’s hottest young playwrights”—based his latest play on Everyman, an English morality drama about the search for salvation when Death knocks at the door. Surprisingly, Jacobs-Jenkins reconfigures that 15th-century work into a contemporary meditation on love. One critic at Everybody’s 2017 New York premiere said it “fills the heart in a new and unexpected way.” Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting, who also saw that original production, says it “reminds us of goodness, of compassion, of our responsibility to each other.”

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Photo by John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

It’s still not a direct path to the afterlife for the play’s title character, Everybody. The actor who plays that role, among others, is chosen from the cast by lottery as the performance begins. “When you see the production,” Ting says, “Everybody could be a young woman, an older man, a person of color. It makes these roles as inclusive as possible. And it reminds us we’re not just who we are, but also the consequence of who we surround ourselves with.”

Other characters have names like Friendship and Kinship, but they’re not one-dimensional. “The people in the play feel like reflections of the audience,” Ting adds. “There’s a contemporary dynamic between Everybody and the other characters he or she encounters on the journey.”

Ting notes he was “caught off guard” by the play’s final moments—a throwback to one of the first questions it asks: “What does it mean to pursue a rigorous morality today?” Audiences may have their own answers, but Ting says Jacobs-Jenkins offers “a complex navigation of our current discord.”

Everybody runs July 18 through August 5 at Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda. Tickets cost $20–$92, calshakes.org.

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