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Centre Stage’s ‘Everybody’ Challenges Love Against Inevitable Mortality

Penn State Centre Stage will return for the 2022-2023 season with its latest production, “Everybody,” opening on February 17 in the Pavilion Theatre.

Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, “Everybody” leverages inevitable mortality against the human spirit. Following the common man referred to as Everybody, the play runs about 90 minutes with no intermission and is based upon the 15th-century play, “Everyman.”

A clever comedy with meta elements, “Everybody” brings life and Death, played by Julia Salvato, to the Pavilion Theatre. After entering the venue, one can expect to see the Usher, played by Jackson Pavlik, surveying the crowd.

Following a lengthy lecture in which the Usher prepares the room for the journey ahead, lights flash, a record scratches, and the story begins. 

Representing all people, Everybody takes on human form, and other abstract concepts such as Beauty, Kinship, and Strength, which are also personified by actors onstage. When God reveals his displeasure at life on Earth, he orders Death to bring Everybody to him in the afterlife.

Demanding answers in disappointment, God requires Everybody to give a presentation on their entire life to explain what they did with God’s greatest gift. Wildly distressed by the pressure of the situation, Everybody begs Death to allow them a companion for the terrifying journey and request.

Death reluctantly agrees, and Everybody beseeches others such as Friendship, Senses, and Stuff to come with them. Each rebuffs their request, leaving Everybody to their eternal solitude. 

Finally, just one character gives in to Everybody’s desperation and accompanies them on the brutal journey: the kind and loyal Love.

Juxtaposing connection against abandonment, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins shows that while we may face fleeting periods of loneliness, certain pillars of life will carry us further than others.

Satirizing humanity’s struggle to remember the meaning of life, “Everybody” encompasses a variety of meta choices. Transforming the Pavilion Theatre into a spooky ghost land between fantastical worlds and mortal life, skeletons creep around and play with levels in the space. Characters also rise and move from the audience, so crowds can expect an undeniably immersive experience. 

In a fascinating challenge for live theatre, “Everybody” features a casting lottery onstage each night. Cast members emerge from the audience and randomly select a role to play by the luck of the draw. 

“There are 120 possible casting combinations, and in all likelihood, no two performances will be alike,” the directors wrote. 

The resulting performance is unique by chance and required the preparation of all roles for the on-site casting call. To tackle this challenge, a team of Penn State dramaturgs, including Sebastian Trainor, Jeanmarie Higgins, Erik Raymond Johnson, Michele Dunleavy, David Kersnar, Jenny Lamb, and Steve Snyder, directed “Everybody” in unison.

Actors have little time to prepare between the onstage casting and performance but swap in and out of roles with ease. To ensure this result, directors each worked on a brief section of the script and rotated cast members in different combinations to rehearse. 

“For a play where Everybody might be played by anybody, it seems appropriate that it should be directed by ‘everybody,’” the directors wrote. 

“Everybody” will run from February 17 through February 25 at the Pavilion Theatre, with one final preview performance on Thursday, February 16. A trigger warning is in place for flashing lights and smoke effects.

Tickets can be purchased through Centre Stage and range from $12.50 to $20. 

By an anonymous donor’s effort to make the School of Theatre more accessible, a limited number of tickets will be offered free of charge to non-Arts and Achitecture majors. Students who apply can secure a seat here. 

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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