Not Your Mother’s Morality Play—Villanova Puts New Spin on EVERYMAN

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

“Here begynneth a treatyse how þe hye Fader of Heven sendeth Dethe to somon every creature

 to come and gyve acounte of theyr lyves in this worlde…”

Villanova’s Theatre program continues their 2013-2014 season with an interesting new take on EVERYMAN by Anonymous—and translated by Mark J. Costello. Directed by Rev. David Cregan, the production runs on the Vasey Stage from November 12th to the 24th, 2013.

Mitchell Bloom as Death in Villanova Theatre’s EVERYMAN. (Photo credit: Paola Nogueras)

The Summoning of Everyman, written in England in the late 15th century, is generally known simply as EVERYMAN. The play has a number of similarities to John Bunyan’s 1678 Christian novel Pilgrim’s Progress; both make use of allegorical characters to examine the question of how man attains Christian salvation. It uses the belief that at the end of one’s life all of a person’s deeds—good and bad—are judged by God from a great ledger book; the story is the accounting of the life of EVERYMAN, who symbolizes all mankind. The play opens with a prologue: a messenger tells the audience to heed the lesson that follows. Then God speaks, lamenting that humans have become too materialistic to follow Him; they no longer appreciate all he has given, and must be reminded…. Death visits and gives the main character one last chance to get others to help him improve his accounting; each of these characters personifies such abstract concepts as Fellowship, Discretion and Knowledge. As Everyman approaches each character begging them to accompany him to Death, they refuse—and the viewer sees the age-old conflict of good vs. evil dramatized through these interactions. EVERYMAN is heavily steeped in Roman Catholic philosophies, and the play was apparently produced with some frequency in the seventy-five years following its composition, but no production records survive.

Villanova Theatre Department head, Rev. David Cregan, has chosen to emphasize the universality of the tale with the unique choice of casting a female in the lead—first-year scholar Hallie Martenson.  Through the use of present day vernacular in his translation, alumnus of the University’s Master’s in Theatre Program Mark J. Costello has brought this centuries old tale very much into the here and now.  The performance starts off with beautiful singing from the Messenger and morphs into a punk-inspired fashion show underscored by pounding club music; it culminates in the designer (Martenson) strutting on the “runway” for her applause. It is at this moment that Death (Mitchell Bloom) appears, but Everyman is too busy texting to notice at first.  Death soon gets her attention however and informs her the end is near, she has one last chance to make things in her life better before her Judgment Day.

The various “models” return as Good Deeds (Christine Petrini), Knowledge (Jill Jacobs), Fellowship (Seth Thomas Schmitt-Hall), Cousin (Peter Andrew Danzig), Kindred (Lauren Fanshau), Goods (Victoria Rose Bonito), Confession (John K. Baxter), Beauty (Emily Poworoznek), Strength (Austin Haitos), Discretion (Brendan Farrell) and Five Wits (Matt Basden, John Hala, Christen Mandracchia, Mikal Odum and Julie Salvo).  Rounding out the ensemble is Meghan Winch as Angel (with Haitos and Jacobs also performing as God). Everyone turns in solid performances, particularly Martenson—who never leaves the stage the entire 90 minutes. She has a wonderful grasp on the material and holds our attention throughout. Beautiful choral work is also provided by the ensemble (directed by Christine Nass, Assistant Director of Music at the University), with standout singing from Petrini, Haitos and Winch.  And Fanshau has invented some terrific dance moves as well.

Hallie Martenson in a scene from EVERYMAN. (Photo credit: Paola Nogueras)

Seth Thomas Schmitt-Hall has created a wonderful playground for his fellow actors to perform on.   Concealed initially by an enormous puffed out blackish curtain, there is a large skate ramp upstage that is put to interesting and athletic use throughout the piece.  The floor initially appears to be a series of irregular raised platforms, but upon further inspection it looked to me like a rough representation of a Celtic cross. Cregan keeps the action flowing and makes terrific use of the space, with actors entering and exiting throughout the theatre. As usual, Jerrold R. Forsyth has lit the piece evocatively, making great use of some wonderful gobos and beautiful colors. The soundscape created by John Stovicek perfectly complements the concept; with a fascinating blend of Club Kids 90s dance beats, Mozart, Medieval chants and Lady Gaga. It all works to great effect (but I did find myself wanting to get up and dance…). Kudos to Courtney Boches for her wonderfully witty and editorial costumes—each piece helped support the character’s purpose to a tee. For example, Goods has a full skirt fashioned out of bags from upscale stores.

Villanova’s production of EVERYMAN may not suit all tastes; it is very edgy, with strong physicality.   There were some bits that went on a tad too long, but on the whole I found it an interesting piece of theatre, with strong performances void of pretense.  Cregan has done a wonderful job of making a play that today’s audiences will understand—without forcing the religious aspect down our throats. As we approach a time of thanksgiving, this might be just the right production to put that into perspective.

by Anonymous
Adapted by Mark J. Costello
Directed by Rev. David Cregan, OSA
November 12-24, 2013
Villanova Theatre
Vasey Hall
800 Lancaster Avenue (at Ithan Ave.)
Villanova, PA 19085

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