nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
June 12, 2009
On their website, theatre troupe Edible Brains says Everybody Dies "is a comedic tour-de-force that leaves audiences feeling mentally assaulted." Such a lofty proclamation of one's own work is risky; it sets expectations very high and could prove more arrogant than accurate. But Edible Brains rolls risky, and their bold assessment of their boldly titled work took the words right out of my mouth. Everybody Dies is indeed a comedic tour-de-force and it did leave me feeling mentally assaulted and so much more.
The delectable brain of playwright Molly Rydzel has come up with a suspenseful, humorous, sci-fi story that is, incredibly, all at once, macabre, campy, satirical, and deadly serious. We find ourselves in a near future where Charlton Heston has ensorcelled the people of the world. By his fundamentalist, pseudo-Christian brainwashing, almost the entire human race has agreed to enter into a global suicide pact. They wait eagerly for his televised announcement to begin their "transitioning" to a new, floating-on-a-cloud life. "Transitioning" is used as a euphemism in the hyper-chanted, popular mantra of the day: "Transitioning isn't the end, it's just the beginning."
The announcement is soon made, and throughout the day we follow the lives of warring activists: those who rebel against Heston's tyranny, led by the brooding, sexy anarchist Jane, and those who run a transitioning support group, lead by the cheerful, fashion-conscious, hot-but-pure Eva. And then there's eye-candy Tom who, amidst all the suicidal happenings, can't decide whether he wants to be with Jane or Eva. Either way he wants to get laid, whether or not it means he'll have to kill himself or run away to New York with the bomb-toting rebels.
To say anything more of what happens, or to describe in more detail the plot and subplots, would only undermine your intrigue or enjoyment of the show. It's a rapid-fire production; scene after scene is a surprise, always catching you unguarded. At times there's a Charles Buschian flair, then suddenly there's a wrenching sense of doom and loss. One scene in particular is grave and even sickening. A few audience members voiced their distaste for it. And although I found the scene disturbing, it compelled me to sink deeper into Rydzel's delicately balanced story. She is certainly a provocateur, but if only to tear away our preconceptions. And don't assume the show is simply taking a blowtorch to far right-wing ideologies. There is here a much more profound investigation of tribalism and its tendency toward destruction and self-destruction.
The entire cast is sublime; they tackle this piece with ferocious energy. Stephen Dexter playing Tom delivers a magnetic performance, subtly embellishing it with his quirky facial expressions. In less able hands his role could have been a continuous brunt of a joke. Instead Dexter gives us a person, odd in all his humanness. I also must mention Carly Robins playing one of the DJs at the Charlton Heston radio station (spinning Heston's favorites all day all night). She gives a performance of crazy proportions in all scary ways human. And for one last acclamation (more than due), this production is a triumph for director Russell Dobular. He seems to have done the impossible: he manages to juggle camp, horror, human suffering, and lots of zingers, and then deliver a show that is centered and harmonious in all its different colors. On a mostly bare stage with a few props, he brings forth a world we can see and believe. His artful and attentive direction of his actors is apparent throughout. He has allowed them to take their performances to the very edge, but never let them fall.
So, you may be wondering how or why Charlton Heston is the leader of this global suicide pact considering he died in 2008. Well, the playwright is playfully (hilariously, really) referencing one particular Charlton Heston film. I'll leave it at that. Throughout the play there are many cultural and film references. Rydzel only hints at them, sometimes with a wink, and other times with the sincere intention to encourage us to see this play not as an outlandish foray into some alternate world, but as an extrapolation of our real world, where global suicide pacts are really nothing unusual.