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Everyman is such an incredible kick, and so much color and so many ideas explode so often and so well, that a happy and enthusiastic opening-night audience quickly succumbed to the magic. And, when all ended, it was I suspect the magic that those people remembered, not exactly the play they had seen performed. Verse plays aren't noted for evoking mass gut reactions. The ambitious and verbally complex Mayer-Babe adaptation gets a little lost in the tempest nightly at Agassiz, and that's not to say that the play is weaker than its dazzling production. A Tim Mayer and (to a lesser extent) a Thom Babe show is like a great big present; there's so much of this one you'll just have to see it twice if you are willing to admit to the gluttony Mayer and Babe so skillfully cater to.
Anyway, the show blew my mind a little and consequently coherence isn't going to be my strong point tonight. The lovely girl who shared with me a pair of tickets the management so kindly offers to critics kept reminding me how ghastly it was to have to see a great show from a reviewer's seat, making constant mental notes and evaluations on the spot all over the place. But I resisted and refuse to be objective. I know the people who made this Everyman. I've worked with most of them and I love them: partly because I just do, but also because their summer plays keep my mind and eyes alive in the midst of still Cambridge summers.
When the show ended and the people left, the blues band led by Peter Ivers continued to play. The people came back and grooved with them for half an hour. It was that kind of a night. Returning to the CRIMSON expecting to find a photo to accompany this absurd review, I discovered a note from the photographer (and this is God's truth) which I quote in its entirety: "Sorry fans--the play was so good that I forgot to load the camera." I was proud of him. Everyman's immediacy is such that you don't take pictures and write reviews, you get very much into it instead.
But for the record, Mayer and Babe have updated and rewritten the 15th century morality play to make the allegory relevant and accessible to the audience of 1968. A tired and neurotic God often hidden behind an American flag looks down on an illusion-ridden, somewhat desperate, party below. He is flanked by Death, dressed as an English gentleman (or perhaps the perfect butler) on his right and the best blues band in Cambridge down-stage in front of him. Everyman, rich, irreligious, and self-satisfied, is approached by Death while making love to Beauty his mistress (Tommy Lee Jones rattles off his "Death, ye comest when I had ye least in mind" as if the Vice Squad had just caught him with his pants down).
In searching for a companion to accompany him on the "long journey," he encounters among others Fellowship (a fatuous, war buddy, fisherman), Strength (a bull dike), Knowledge (resembling Anna May Wong), and Good Deeds (Susan Channing in high style: a beautiful sometime cripple portrayed bitterly as a discarded lover). The action is largely set against the party, usually in silent swing upstage, and much of it is filmed by a little boy with a movie camera who rejects Everyman's plea for companionship by saying, "My life's a silver screen: lots of hand-held stuff, but no adventure flicks." When Everyman misses, it does so by picking overeasy targets to snipe at: American dream complacency, religious hypocrisy, etc. But as in Mayer's Midsummer Night's Dream the reinterpretation of type is often shocking, always cunning. The archetypal morality play proves a perfect vehicle for calculated improvisation.
Oh boy is Dean Gitter wonderful as Death. Grinning impersonally, asleep, or reminiscing about the good old days of the Great Plague, Gitter's creation is compelling and convincingly pragmatic. Jones as Everyman holds the center of attention firmly, but much of the first act could be played with less method intensity, more of the light farce Mayer is wont to introduce on occasion. Last night, Iver's tightly-knit band, his stylized compositions and arrangements, and extraordinary singer George Leh, came as close to stealing a show as anybody comes working with Mayer.
I really have nothing specific to say. The electric Everyman has hit town, it provides our summer with the ending of our wildest dreams, its faulted but perceptive vision is our gain, and you'd be nutty not to get there fast. More to follow Tuesday of a somewhat more analytic nature.
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