Following months of sweat and tears, Montclair State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance put on an existentially thought-provoking show of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play, “Everybody,” from Feb. 16 to 25.
As part of the “Studio Series,” the Life Hall Studio Theatre allowed student artists to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster with their intimate performance of a mortality medieval play, leaving the people thinking about all the ways they interact with the world around them.
Nothing could have prepared the audience for the talent and vulnerability shown in the performance of this philosophical piece. Even more impressively, many of the students involved in this show had their role for the night decided by none other than a lottery on stage, meaning that each person had almost the entire script completely memorized to be prepared for anything. With only minutes of preparation following the cast finding out their role for the night, each student performed as if it was made for them.
The leads of the show were no exceptions to this randomization. In playing the role of Everybody, sophomore Emery Myers and junior A’Lysai Robinson, both acting majors, also found out each night just moments before the show whether or not they would be the ones to lay the foundation for the entire performance.
It’s no surprise each of these actors was able to connect so deeply to their audience, as the show presented concepts that affect each and every one of us. As Myers and Robinson began their performances of “Everybody,” it became apparent to each of them how their individuality shined through.
“We realized that the main differences between our performances were the same differences we already see between ourselves outside of it,” Myers said. “[Robinson] has always been more expressive and emotional while I’ve been more logical, and I think you can really see it when we’re on stage.”
This show of personality was apparent in Friday’s performance as the lottery left Robinson the lead for the night. In having the audience oscillate between roaring laughter and intense anticipatory moments of silence, Robinson had the audience simultaneously questioning every moment of their lives, all within only 90 minutes.
Not only did Robinson’s performance have the audience looking inward, but in looking around at the crowd, it was clear that her passion was enough to move some to tears. It was as if she was a friend experiencing all of the most intense parts of life in front of your eyes.
Robinson explained just how special the performance was.
“The show represents things that truly affect everybody,” Robinson said. “I find myself quoting the script on a daily basis just because of how real it all is. It’s everywhere.”
Outside of the role of Everybody, the other members of the cast represented so many things that make up our everyday life. With roles like God, Understanding, Death, Strength, Beauty, Brain, Love and Time, we were able to see the ways in which Everybody interacted with these things, and what seemed to matter at the end of it all. The audience got something of a look in the mirror as the role of Everybody was truly able to reflect the ways that every single person does these things in their own lives.
In addition to the intellectual and existential concepts explored in the show, the Department of Theatre and Dance did an impeccable job of bringing different art forms together for the whole. With actors that had the audience forgetting they were even acting in the first place, the outstanding dance scene performed by sophomore acting major Alex Fontes caught the audience off guard in the best way possible.
Audience member Sol Lecour, a junior theatre studies major, was especially impressed with Fontes’ intense dance scene.
“I just really admire the level of confidence that takes to do a solo performance like that, and he did it so well,” Lecour said. “I just found that really impressive.”
This intersection of performance art and philosophical concepts could not have been carried out in a more impressive fashion. Despite the majority of the audience leaving in something of an existential crisis, this performance was nothing short of objectively remarkable.