I want to start this off by saying I had no expectations of the play whatsoever. Given the choice of going in blind or reading the source material, I chose the former because I’m a lazy piece of trash who shivers at the thought of doing anything remotely productive. I had no idea what the play was about, or even what to expect. I went in completely blind, and I think I benefited a little from that aspect, but it ultimately would not have changed my general consensus of the performance; an enjoyable yet cliche retelling of a medieval play modernized by the eyes of someone who I presume enjoys grande mocha lattes from Starbucks.
The play began in such a way that made me lose interest in it quickly, with our little “theater spokeswoman” being conveniently possessed by the all mighty God himself, and he’s pissed at us for our actions blah blah blah. I’ve heard all this dribble before and I just felt that that first speech just came across as awkward and had no impact on me. I’m not a critic by any means, but I feel there could have been a more captivating way of demonstrating that the all powerful GOD was in our mere mortal presence. I’m happy to say that the play picked up from here, as this was the moment it chose to introduce the star of the show, Death.
Death was personified as this little old grandma character that stole the show for me, and I just couldn’t help cracking a smile every time she spoke. It was hilariously unorthodox but it also kind of made sense; combine that nagging grandma you have always on your back, correlating with the impending, almost “nagging” idea of Death always on your shoulder and you get one hilariously unorthodox combo that was bound to be the highlight (or at least one of the highlights) of the experience overall for much of the audience.
God then asks Death to find “Everybody” and have them present a demonstration of their lives to the holy one himself. The play then reveals It’s semi-interactivity, by having predetermined actors sitting in the audience being called up and beginning to recite lines no mere audience member would know. It should have been obvious to us, as the seats we took were reserved for our class, and here we had some random dude just chilling with the rest of us, speaking his mind and giving his thoughts about the play before hand, adding to that sort of semi-interactivity I mentioned earlier.
The actors beg Death that they need more time, and ask if they can bring someone with them to this journey with no return, to which Death allows. Afterwards, we are informed that the play works on a sort of “lotto system” that gives each actors random roles and assuring us that we are possibly watching a version of the play never shown anywhere else, and while I commend their efforts to give the play a more individualized and special feeling to the audience, I must say that I felt this lotto didn’t seem very necessary in the long run. Especially if the “discussing the dream” sequences are unchanged throughout each performance.
We are then given confrontation scenes between “Everybody” and the various depictions of relationships that Everybody has, them being Friendship, Kinship, and Stuff. To make a long story short, every single one ends the same way; they reject Everybody and have Everybody painted as the bad guy, or at the very least, in a negative light at the end of each confrontation. And then it cuts to black where the person dreaming is discussing the dream with their friends.
Now I have to state how much I hated the dark “discussing the dream” sequences. It started off fine and kind of interesting to hear the opinions of others listening to this story as the audience was, and I have to admit that a lot of the voices were enticing as all hell to listen to. But, during the 2nd or 3rd sequence, It officially became race bait. These moments seem to have been a way of comedic relief between the confrontation sequences between Everybody and various personified depictions of Friendship, Stuff, Kinship and probably would have worked just fine had the author not needed to push some political agenda of race and interpretation of one’s way of speaking, but sadly it didn’t resonate with me and annoyed me more then anything else. I am a heavy believer of “There’s a time and place for everything” and that in the right light and setting, anything can be discussed and ideas can be implemented into someones subconscious without feeling forced, but this was not the case here. I’m going to end my rant with these sequences here, but I thoroughly felt that there would have been extremely little to no impact had these sequences been omitted from the play, but of course, that’s just my opinion.
Now, funny story, the actor who played “Love” was sitting right next to me. I didn’t make any attempt to talk to him, and neither did he, so he was blending in quite nicely with us common folk. Throughout most of the play, he seemed uninterested and I remember him taking out his phone a couple of times. When he started getting up, my first thought was that he might have had to go to the bathroom or something, but the actor playing Everybody addressed him as he started leaving and my mouth sprung wide open as the realization came in; I was uncomfortably touching arms with an actor this whole time. As I said, this random guy was Everybody’s “Love” and he agreed to come with Everybody as long as they accepted some harsh truths.
The part with the dancing skeletons was trippy and I loved every second of it.
The play then concludes with Death coming back and Everybody being thrown into a hole with the personification of Love and Sin being following shortly after, basically giving the very, very, very cliche moral of “Be good, as you never know what sins you’ll take with you as you die” though I don’t think I can fault the play for this, as the original play’s moral was an even duller “Be good” so I don’t think I can blame the author for wanting to keep some semblance of the original play intact.
I might have omitted some key points from this little interpretation of mine, but it’s already at 1000 words so I think It’s justified to cut it short. Overall, I enjoyed the play but It is by no means perfect. Maybe some of my negative emotions towards the play could be attributed to the fact that I’m not a Sunday person, but I do believe they are valid complaints. I wouldn’t mind seeing more plays by Mr. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, so long as he takes it easy on the grande mocha lattes next time.