The Catamounts production starts with a lottery for who’s going to die

What’s it like to confront death? And, uh, can we bring a plus-one?

These are questions at the center of Everybody (directed by Julie Rada, presented by The Catamounts), a show about mortality and everybody’s inevitable journey to the end. Sounds like a lighthearted way to spend a Saturday night, right?

In a weird way, it is.

The play, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, is adapted from Everyman, the 15th-century play in which allegorical characters teach us the best way to live to prepare us for death. Jacobs-Jenkins’s version is a modern comedic twist on this same idea and follows Everybody, the play’s lead, as they are summoned by Death (Edith Weiss). In a panic, more time is begged out of Death and Everybody begins the search for someone — or something — to bring with them when it’s time to go.

The twist? The cast member playing Everybody is chosen by lottery at each performance, right in front of the audience.

Unconventional approach

Based on who is selected as Everybody (Jason Maxwell at my viewing), the remaining cast members fill in the roles of Friendship (Bernadette Sefic), Kinship (Hossein Forouzandeh), Cousinship (Peter Trinh), and Stuff (Tresha Farris). Only the roles of the Usher/God (both played by Karen Slack), Time (Lily Gruber), and Love (Ilasiea Gray) remain the same. Besides keeping its ensemble on its toes, this unconventional approach to casting guarantees an experience unique to the particular night you see the show. You really have no clue what — or who — you’re going to get.

In the end, Everybody dies. The universal application of this sentence is what the play is all about. Despite Everybody’s pleading, his allegorical counterparts refuse to join him in death and leave him to die as we all must: alone, save for our own feelings and experiences. We can’t even bring our beloved stuff to the grave.

What makes this all the more real is the lack of separation between the stage and the audience. Set in the intimate black box theatre of Boulder’s Dairy Center, you’re on level ground with the actors, who perform a few feet in front of you. The eclectic set of chairs that form a circle around the room and serve as theatre seats are incorporated into each scene as the cast sits in them, moves between a few small openings, and shows up behind them.

Rather than onlookers, we become part of the story. Combined with recordings that recite the inner thoughts and fears of the lead — likely reflecting some of our own — we soon realize that we are Everybody. Perhaps we should examine our lives before we die, too.

Ilasiea Gray and Tresha Farris in ‘Everybody’
Photo: Michael Ensminger

Creative set design

The set itself, given the constraints of a small black-box theatre, works hard to provide a full theatrical experience. With minimal space on the ground, set designer M. Curtis Grittner expertly utilizes vertical space, hanging props (designed by Amanda Berg Wilson) around the room from carabiners that lower at just the right time. A variety of colored cloth lines the ceiling and reduces the effect of sitting in an enclosed space, perhaps signaling heaven above. Edison lightbulbs flicker on and off (lighting design by Jacob Welch), periodically becoming the only light in the room besides dim spotlighting, effectively suggesting you are somewhere else in space or time. You quickly forget that you are sitting in a simple wooden chair in a black-walled room that might otherwise host acting classes.

Pockets of humor

The humor of the show, which makes such a morbid topic enjoyable for 100 minutes, exists in pockets throughout the evening. The acting, which humanizes certain figures, gives comedic relief at all the right moments, including when Death shows up. Rather than our usual terrifying notion of the Grim Reaper, Death enters as God’s flustered and somewhat dopey assistant, complete with tangled hair and holey jeans (costume design by Tricia Music). The ways in which Everybody is slowly abandoned by his fellow figures, who don’t want to die yet, also leaves you laughing — both genuinely, but also nervously from the fact that we’ll inevitably experience the same thing. This is what gives Everybody its edge: the way it makes you laugh, while simultaneously encouraging self-examination.

While the allegorical and unconventional nature of Everybody takes time to warm up to, as it can be a bit on the nose at times, it provides a unique, modernized perspective on the traditional theme of life and death. If you’re open to what The Catamounts call “theatre for the adventurous palate,” this is the show for you.

Edith Weiss in ‘Everybody.’
Photo: Michael Ensminger