Get on the bus with death in 'Everyman'
When: Opens 6 p.m. Thursday, 6 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 5 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through March 10
Where: The Mining Exchange, A Wyndham Grand Hotel, 8 S. Nevada Ave.
Tickets: $45, $15 ages 15 and younger, not recommended for ages 4 and younger. Call for reservations, only 35 seats per show; 255-3232, theatreworkscs.org
It’s inevitable. We are all on the same journey toward death. Not one of us will escape it. Still, we live in a culture that ignores it, or feel shocked when confronted by it.
This is the stuff of TheatreWorks’ new production, “Everyman on the Bus,” based on “Everyman,” one of the best-known medieval plays in the repertoire. It opens Thursday.
In this TheatreWorks production, the Everyman is a character representing every man and every woman at every age. In it, Everyman, who is played by multiple actors of different ages and sexes, is suddenly approached by Death, who warns him the end is fast approaching. What will he do? How do any of us react to the knowledge of our own mortality? Who do we turn to?
“I don’t want to be grisly about it. It’s a lively play, and interesting,” says director Murray Ross, the artistic director of TheatreWorks. “It feels healthy to do this, to be aware of the reality which is inescapable and must be reckoned with. That’s what the play is telling us.”
And it’s all going to happen on a bus. A Ramblin Express bus, to be precise. The entire 70-minute show will be done on board.
“We love our box, but sometimes we like getting out of it too, especially with a play that invites its audiences on a journey, the last great ride of our lives,” Ross says. “Medieval theatre was both literal and concrete as well as abstract -- and we think grounding it in the actual, the concrete, and the here and now will make both the play and the journey unique and memorable.”
The small audience boards the bus downtown at The Mining Exchange, A Wyndham Grand Hotel. During the performance on wheels, the bus will make half a dozen stops, and characters will exit and enter as indicated in the original script. There will be two shows each night.
Local actor Sammie Joe Kinnett plays an Everyman and also Good Deeds, who reigns over material possessions. Nothing, including people and things, will save him from that dark night.
“It’s a good message,” he says. “Everyman has been put in this spot where he has to prove himself or perish, and he realizes that everything he owns, all these traits he thought were working for him, actually don’t help him at all in the end. The only thing that matters instead of possessions and power and status is what you do for other people. That’s the only thing that will carry you from this life to whatever is next.”
The idea to take the audience along for Everyman’s ride hit Ross as he sat on a bus. He was headed to teach a medieval theater class at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, sitting on the campus shuttle and holding a copy of the script. He looked down at the play and inspiration hit.
“There’s something about seeing this happen in a completely contemporary setting,” he says. “I thought it would be fun to find a way to do that.”
There’s no time like the present for a treatise on what’s important in life, Ross says.
“Death is a central fact of all our lives,” he says. “It may be that we’ve done a good job in taking death out of common sight. There are fewer and fewer of us who live with people who are dying. We die in hospitals and hospice, if we’re lucky. We die in places which are far removed from actual life, but it wasn’t like that in the Middle Ages or in most of history.”
“It’s been 600 years, and we’re still talking about the same thing we were talking about back then,” says Judeth Shay Burns, who plays the Angel, and makes an appearance toward the end of Everyman’s journey. “We’re still grappling with the same questions of life and death. Here we are in medieval England, trying to figure out what’s really important while we’re running around the planet.”
Granted, contemplating your death while on a bus with Death and God, makes for a challenging evening.
“It’s the kind of play where afterward many people would like a drink,” Ross says with a laugh. “Life’s an adventure, death’s an adventure and ‘Everyman’ is an adventure.”
Jennifer Mulson may be reached at 636-0270.