By Bridgette M. Redman
It is obvious from the moment one walks into The New Theatre Project’s space that the experience won’t be a conventional one, but rather taste of the bohemian flavor that mixes well with Ann Arbor’s reputation. Taro tea and coffee is available from borrowed mugs, the chairs are an eclectic collection of donated folding chairs, armchairs and a few theater-style connected seats. Incense burns in the dimly lit space and actors are stretching and practicing yoga-like moves in the circular stage surrounded by the 40-some seats.
This is the setting for “The Everyman Project,” with the props of daily life hanging from the ceiling and people pleasantly socializing before the show. Playwright Jason Sebacher, who flew in for the premiere of his show, introduces himself to actors, who in turn introduce him to audience members. There is no fourth wall in this production, though once the show begins, the performers are too intense in the story they are telling to notice there is an audience watching – except for Death, who is always aware of everyone, in a creepy omniscient way that underscores her assertion that even if you can’t believe in God, you must believe in Death.
The play is a modern interpretation of the medieval morality play, a look at the contemporary Everyman and the emotions and heartbreak that she experiences. There is a beautiful mix of elevated poetic language and the intense exchanges of everyday speech.
The thesis that Everyman explores, the audience is told during the curtain speech, is what that moment looks like when, later, you realize that nothing will ever be the same again. Those moments can happen for different reasons for different people, though in this exploration, most of the moments are heart-wrenching and center around loss in its many different forms. Loss of life, of love, of trust, of friendship and of a conventional view of one’s self. Loss of a job, of ambition, of a college graduation.
A young woman struggles to deal with the impending loss of her mother and the choices she must make about an obsessive relationship with the man who was her first lover and whom she takes back despite his manipulative emotional immaturity. He, in turn, seems to be a magnet for the vulnerable, male and female alike. Perhaps it is because they sense in him his own personal weaknesses and despair.
“The Everyman Project” moves rapidly, never letting up on the intensity from its mantra-chanting opening to Death’s final coda. The actors exhibit great physical flexibility with Death slipping in and out of the role of poetic oracle to one of sagacious seductress. The ensemble dances around Death, not wanting to acknowledge her, even though she demands their attention and tells them that they all must go with her. It isn’t to their own deaths that she leads them, but to the death of others and to the deaths of their dreams. She tries to save the one who is actually dying and brings others to her.
The interaction between the characters swings from preciously loving to passionately violent. At times their physicality is purely stylistic and affected, while at others times it is uncomfortably natural and intimate.
With less than 50 seats crowded in a circle around the stage, there is no escaping a single breath these ardent characters take. Nor is there any escaping the incense or smoke from the herbal cigarettes that are used in two of the scenes. It is, as the managing director described to guests she greeted at the box office, a multi-sensory experience.
“The Everyman Project” is an avidly emotional play in which the characters are forced to finally accept that like death, one of the few certain things in life is change.
‘The Everyman Project’
The New Theatre Project, 220 Felch St., Unit 5, Ann Arbor. Friday-Sunday through May 15; no performance May 6. $15. 734-645-9886. http://www.thenewtheatreproject.org