But it’s an effective opening of indulgent horrors, showing how our main character, Everyman (Chiwetel Ejiofor), has a certain kind of unaware, boorish, privileged lifestyle, spending his money and not really caring about much else. He passes out at the club and wakes up as the cleaning woman (who turns out to be God, naturally) is mopping up the disgusting floor, and he offers her some money to apologize for her job. But then he meets a man in a white jumpsuit who introduces himself as Death (Dermot Crowley, so good), and announces that Everyman’s time is up. This play is about how Everyman, sometimes horrifyingly called ‘Ev’ like it’s his actual name, deals with his impending doom.
It’s such an overdone topic, man’s struggle with his own mortality, and so this update needed to be handled in a fresh way to be worth doing. I assumed that the revival of it would bring about a relevant reimagining that made it original. But despite the we’re so cool vibe of the opening, nothing Everyman did in the face of death was new or original. He freaked out, and that was pretty much it.
One interesting aspect was that the original 15th text was rhyming, so this modern update also rhymed. But oof. They should have called Lin-Manuel. Some of the rhymes were embarrassing. One line went something like “Ev, mate, we’re totally your fandom, but all of this is just…random.” I apologize to the person sitting in front of me for throwing up on you.
So Everyman was super upset, naturally, and tried to get out of it. He tried to get his family to vouch for him, then his friends, none of whom seemed to care that much.
Everyman’s mother was good but had awful lines. She made jokes about her daughter-caregiver (the good child, as it were) being a lesbian, and the audience loved it, which was super weird. How messed up is that? It didn’t even contribute any meaningful character development or anything, just cheap laughter. Another joke was about how the daughter was vegan and how at least Ev doesn’t have to cook for a vegan, thank his lucky stars, or eat tofu scramble. The audience DIED at the tofu scramble joke. Again, didn’t add anything, just was super lame and cringeworthy. I was really surprised that they took this ancient work and updated it not with worthwhile insights but with cheap jokes, especially when the play is about using your life as best you can, being a good person while you are alive, and yet the only person in the show being a good person is used as a punching bag. And the most bothersome part is that this wasn’t done intentionally! It wasn’t like the creative team realized at all what they were doing, as clever as that could have been – a show about shitty people wasting life while making fun of the only person trying to do good could send a really powerful message about how we treat and think of others. But that wasn’t what they were going for here, it was clear, because the very brief jabs were clearly just to make the audience laugh, not to imply any deeper meaning. Which is a missed opportunity for actual depth.
No, this show was all about Everyman’s reaction to his death, not about other characters’ interactions or reveals. He freaked out pretty consistently. After trying to persuade the people in his life to help him, he tried to use his vast material wealth as a thing that God would give a shit about; obviously that backfired. Finally, he befriends a homeless man and learns a tiny bit about being a good person? But not really. I mean he realizes that he wasn’t much of one.
The most promising scene came when Everyman says goodbye to the embodiments of all his senses and abilities (taste, touch, knowledge, &c.). It was like the human-live action version of “Inside Out”. That’s a really cool idea but I wish it was better done. After like 100 minutes of loud tearful desperate cries with no level changes, no variation, when he just continued yelling crying at his attributes it wasn’t as heavy as it should have been. Chiwetel was good, and it was wonderful to see this great actor live onstage (long ‘i’ live; he doesn’t live). But the performance and the show seemed pretty one note, trying to sustain an intensified level of energy that just felt flat with no variation.
Yet after Everyman exhausts all his avenues of redemption and faces Death for good, Death tells him that his struggle really touched him. I was confused. How was his reaction different from anyone else’s? It seemed textbook, to react to death with unhappiness and anger, freaking out, trying to make bargains, trying to get people in your life to stand up for you. Like what else do people do? I didn’t get why Death, and also God, actually, (the cleaning woman, remember, which was clever) were impressed by his reaction. They still killed him, but they maybe felt bad about it? It was weird!
A lot of people seemed to be really touched by this story, which surprised me. Like I think I heard crying. Maybe I just think about this dreary stuff more frequently than others, so it wasn’t a novelty? I’m way existential. But no, everyone thinks about it at least a tiny bit, and nothing in this show offered anything new to the subject. Be a good person, it said, do good deeds, but even if you don’t, we will be impressed with how much you don’t want to die? I think that’s what it was saying.