At death’s door, what do people leave behind and what do people take with them? The Dramat’s latest play, “Everybody,” seeks to answer this question while celebrating the theatricality of life in a fusion of comedy and chaos.  

“Everybody,” a play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, is being staged from Feb. 23 to 26 at the University Theatre on York Street. The play, directed by Garrett Allen DRA ’24 and produced by Peter Li ’24, explores what happens at the end of one’s life. 

“The show reminds us that what we have in the end is love,” actor Sam Ahn ’24 said. “Because it is cheesy, we just discount it sometimes, and don’t necessarily live up to that cliché. But it is a good reminder, especially at Yale, where it is very ‘go-go-go’ and everyone is always trying to get to the next thing and do as much as possible. The show has got me thinking about how I want to best spend my time here — what will I remember, what will go with me.”

The show begins with five characters initially referred to as “Somebodies.” God, a character in the play, decides that the character Everybody must die, so they send Death, one of their employees, to notify them of their impending doom. The Somebodies plead with Death to be allowed to die alongside Everybody. 

It is at this point that a lottery occurs. Through a randomized drawing conducted onstage each night, the five Somebodies’ roles are assigned to the actors, with one actor randomly selected for the role of Everybody and the others assigned to play the four other Somebodies: Kinship, Friendship, Cousinship and Stuff. The character Everybody attempts to convince the latter four characters to die with them.

“The lottery is a direct representation of the randomness of chance, of living, of death,” Allen said. “At the same time, it’s a way of getting us as an audience to empathize with the people on stage. Since they are people just like us, the idea of them being randomly chosen and having to go through this experience is just like us being chosen for anything.”

Each show features a different permutation of the five roles, meaning that there can be 120 different variations of the show — with a catch. Each night of the Dramat’s production, with permission from the playwright, the lottery is modified slightly to allow for every actor to play Everybody once. 

According to Allen, because each performance is unique, “Everybody” leans into the ephemerality of theater. The audience sees it and then it disappears, yet it continues existing within viewers’ “hearts and minds.”

According to Li, this is when the show really begins. Everybody travels around on stage to plead with the four characters. For example, Everybody goes to their family and friends, represented by Friendship and Kinship, carrying out conversations with these embodied abstract entities. The show seeks to be universal, even in the language of the script. One technique is usage of the word “slash,” which allows for broad representation of the abstract concepts applicable to any audience member. Li provided the following example spoken by Friendship: “But don’t you also want to cut back on screens slash caffeine slash alcohol slash gluten slash carbs slash red meat consumption slash media consumption?” 

“Whatever these concepts mean to anyone is up to one’s individual interpretation,” Li said. “The coolest thing about the show is that each actor brings such an individual take on these ideas of Friendship and Kinship, and et cetera. In that way, specificity also comes from the actors themselves.”

The characters embody key qualities of each abstract concept. Though Friendship will be different depending on the actor to whom it is randomly assigned, the character is meant to be outgoing, friendly and supportive — right up until Everybody asks them to die. Kinship and Cousinship are family members; they are kind and caring and have a history with Everybody. Stuff is the personification of all of the material possessions Everybody has accumulated throughout life. Li commented that Stuff has many “hot takes” about capitalism and the idea of ownership.

The five Somebodies face a unique challenge in that they must memorize all of the lines for each possible character. Actor Maxwell Brown’s ’25 approach to differentiating between the characters was to play around with physicality and voice, and focus on listening and reacting to other actors on stage. 

The play is made beautiful, according to Brown, because of the production’s diverse cast. Depending on differing physical features and racial backgrounds among other aspects, the lines will be received differently. Brown offered the example of a scene where a character says “I’m not even white! You’re white!” 

In conversation with the production’s playwright, Allen was advised not to over-intellectualize the play, despite it being very “heady” and dealing with themes of mortality and morality. Allen is excited for the show to create an empathetic relationship between the audience and the character Everybody as they go through a journey that will befall every person eventually.

“One of the things I have been working on is thinking about how this play feels beyond the intellectual, beyond the rational, but in a more feelings-based, visceral place,” Allen said.

The play is a contemporary adaptation of the 15th century morality play “Everyman.” One modification made by Jacobs-Jenkins was to replace the character “Good Deeds” with the character “Love.” According to Allen, this change was likely made to reflect the accessibility of love as an idea in modern times. One might say they love a friend while also expressing love for a television show, allowing love to take on varied meanings.

“This idea of love and what it means and what it feels like is such a powerful thing,” Allen said. “So I think hearing ‘Love’ as a character versus ‘Good Deeds’ makes a person in this contemporary age think very differently. [Love] can be internal or external.”

Allen believes the play is a love letter to the actors, the audience and to the theater. For actors, the play offers a chance to live in the moment, and bring themselves to the table as both a human and an actor. This love letter extends to the idea of theater in its honoring of the lineage of telling stories about death and morality. Though the play was based on “Everyman,” Allen pointed to Buddhist stories as some of the first morality-themed works.

The setting of the show is a theater, a choice described as minimalist and “meta.” In fact, in its original iterations, the audience members were pulled up to the stage. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this theatrical element could not be included. 

“This play is a confrontation,” Allen said. “It is asking us to look death in the face and think ‘What is my life, what am I doing living today in the now?”

Tickets can be reserved on the show’s Yale College Arts web page for upcoming performances on Feb. 23, 24, 25 and 26. A 75 percent venue capacity restriction is still in place, meaning around 300 tickets may be sold for each performance. 

Kayla Yup covers Science & Social Justice and the Yale New Haven Health System for the SciTech desk. For the Arts desk, she covers anything from galleries to music. She is majoring in Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology and History of Science, Medicine & Public Health as a Global Health Scholar.