For its second show this theatre season, University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (aka CCM) is presenting audiences with Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. This “modern riff” on the 15th century morality play Everyman puts a different spin on peoples’ journeys in finding the meaning of life. As an extra way to keep the age-old story fresh, all roles are reassigned for each performance by lottery! While this can be a heck of an undertaking for an artist, succeeding in this unusual process is a testament to their talent.
The Production Team
Luckily for both the players and audience members alike, directing powerhouse Bridget Leak (who has worked with the likes of Playhouse in the Park and Ensemble Theatre Company) serves as the guest director on this piece. This reviewer has no trouble admitting that fact alone made her sprint to get a seat. Per usual, Ms. Leak’s stage pictures tell a story along with the text of the script beautifully. Use of the stage is incredibly creative and effective. (For those who might not be familiar with the Cohen Family Studio Theater, it offers a balcony as part of the playing space. As an artist myself, I would be tickled to perform or direct in that space.)
Adding to the director’s vision coming alive onstage are some smart choices by Assistant Lighting Director Ashton Karp; impressive sound design by Assistant Sound Designer Reagan Warvel; and fantastic execution of sound by Production Sound Engineer Lucia Hill. Due to its design, the theatre seems to be one that can absorb sound in the oddest ways – but not a word or sound was missed. Further, I felt costume choices by Assistant Costume Designer Peggie Dona are excellent. The clothing allows actors freedom of movement and does not distract in any way.
The Performing Artists
Given the nature of the lottery approach, five of the actors are credited as “Somebody” in your program. While this is a strong, cohesive ensemble of performers, there are certainly some standouts. Palini Sunkara, a Junior acting student, has a natural style which makes any of their dialogue seem as though it had been created on the spot. Given that Mx. Sunkara would have had to memorize five separate roles, it is even more impressive how easily they execute their role of the night. Not to be outdone, Hannah Toronto (another Junior acting student) has a presence ontstage that can only be described as electric. You never want to take your eyes off them and their depiction of emotion is terribly relatable. These two young people have quite a bit of depth to offer whichever stages they choose to grace once they have finished at CCM.
In Summary of CCM’s Everybody
While this play tries hard to make a point and can sometimes be described as “weird” (a direct quote from someone closely involved with it), it is an experience I am happy to have. It would serve as an excellent acting exercise for novice and veteran performers alike. While based off ancient observations, it remains timely. Even those of us humans who constantly wish to learn and evolve will have to come to terms with the idea that they are some things we will never know. In the meantime, we can turn to theatre. Everybody presented by CCM runs now through October 7. Tickets can be purchased at the CCM BOX OFFICE.