Guest column by Murray Ross, director of TheatreWorks' 'Everyman'
When: Opens 6 p.m. Thursdayfeb. 21, 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
These days people have no more luck escaping death than they did in the 15th century, but we are a lot better at hiding it from public view.
Perhaps no time before or since was more preoccupied with death than the late Middle Ages, when the skeletal figure with his scythe was everywhere — in woodcuts, in paintings, in poems and in plays. He was leading his followers on his dance over every hill and town, and advance word of his coming was in the mouth of every traveling preacher. Death was not only a vivid fact of life, especially conspicuous in the outbreaks of plague, but also something of a cultural obsession.
“Everyman,” which is unattributed, is the best known and most haunting drama of its time. It is very like and unlike theatre as we know it now. It differs strongly from most entertainment we seek out today because its primary intention is to give moral instruction to its audience.
In some ways, “Everyman” might seem more like a sermon than a play. Everyman is also an allegory, whose characters embody the abstractions of parables. Today you don’t often see Oscars handed out to actors playing the likes of knowledge, good deeds, beauty, strength and fellowship, but they all come to physical life on this stage.
The lesson “Everyman” teaches is based deeply in medieval religious doctrine and practice, since virtually all theater of the Middle Ages was associated with the church. But the parable of the man summoned by death and sent forth on a harrowing journey of redemption is found in virtually all faiths and religions, and Everyman’s experience in coming to terms with his mortality is one that is representative of human experience in ages before and since — from denial, to bargaining, to desperation and finally to acceptance.
If “Everyman” were only a medieval parable, it probably would have died from public view a long time ago. But, in fact, in has been in continuous performance for 600 years. Though it is very much a morality play, it is also wonderful theater. It begins with a bang, which is then followed by a whimper and finally it ends in song. It is full of vivid, distinct and quite recognizable characters. They may be abstractions, but they look an awful lot like actual people, and some of them are very funny, too. Like all good drama, “Everyman” is eventful and lively from beginning to end, and like all great drama, it has a resonance that lingers long after it has ended.
We strongly encourage every man and every woman to get on the bus for the last great ride of their lives. You will be thankful it is only a practice run, and quite possibly you’ll be better prepared for the real thing when it comes along.