CU stages fresh adaptation of 500-year-old play ‘Everyman’
The timeless morality play gets a steampunk, technology-heavy update in Boulder.
When death comes calling, how will you measure your time on Earth?
That’s the question presented in “Everyman,” a classic 15th-century morality play. This winter, a modern adaptation of the play by Carol Ann Duffy, chock full of steampunk and 21st-century details, comes to CU Boulder’s University Theatre for a two-week run.
In the original play, penned in Middle English by an anonymous author, the eponymous Everyman, who represents humankind, dies and watches God weigh his lifetime of good and bad deeds to determine whether he’s fit for heaven. In Duffy’s adaptation, director Will Lewis explains, the religious elements are left out but the general premise remains.
“The story is about what we’ll have to account for at the moment of death,” Lewis says. “Will we find that our lives have amounted to anything beyond personal success? Have we affected our communities or loved ones in positive ways?”
In the modern adaptation, Everyman attends a debaucherous 40th birthday party and falls drunkenly to his death. In the afterlife, he confronts characters representing elements of his life—Fellowship, Friends, Kindred and Family; Wealth, Worldly Goods, Knowledge and Good Deeds—who help show him his strengths and deficiencies.
“He goes through this whole progression of characters, asking them to come speak on his behalf to show he was a good person,” Lewis says. “Some of the characters outright reject him, and others are revealed to be too shallow to be truly meaningful. He realizes good deeds are what really make a good life … and the character representing his good deeds is literally on her deathbed, buried in a mound of trash.”
Lewis believes the timeless message of this play is exactly what our selfie-driven society needs to hear.
“We live in an age where it’s all about individual worth,” he says. “We’ve lost our sense of community, both in a small-scale social sense and in understanding how we’re connected to the world as a whole.”
Lewis plans to hit the message home by integrating technology into the performance. He hopes to bring the stage farther out into the audience, use projection to set the scene and set up a live Twitter feed. If all goes according to plan, the contemporary setup will encourage audiences to participate in the play, whether by getting up on stage or typing from the comfort of their chairs.
Even if they don’t participate, Lewis is hopeful that anyone who sees his production walks away thinking seriously about the meaning of life.
“The overall message I hope people get is that they should be more aware of who they are and how the things they do impact others,” he says, “whether it’s people in their immediate circle, the rest of the campus, the rest of the city or the rest of the world.”