“Everyman” is director Frank Galati’s second major assignment with the Steppenwolf troupe in just six months. Last summer his stage adaptation of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” failed to generate much excitement, and his mostly lifeless take on this seldom-seen medieval text isn’t likely to fare much better.
Galati has attempted to open up this short morality tale about one man’s difficult journey from life to death by using modern-day costuming and a few odd scenic elements such as strips of neon. Also on hand are a chorus of 30 male singers who perform Gregorian chants, as well as snippets of a couple of more contemporary ditties. For no apparent reason, Galati adds another twist by having the actor who will play Everyman chosen at random from four candidates at each performance.
Whether or not audiences at this holiday season are craving a rendezvous with “Everyman,” they won’t find Galati’s production especially engrossing, because no one onstage seems very engaged in the telling of this story about Everyman’s search for a companion with whom to face death.
If this tale is to move us with its universal truths, the actors must speak their lines with emotional conviction. But with the exception of Ajay Naidu, who played Everyman at the performance reviewed, everyone appeared to be merely going through the motions.
Naidu brings an appealing sincerity and innocence to his performance, but all around him there’s nothing but dead wood. The Windy City Gay Chorus sounds fine in its Gregorian chant mode, but seems underutilized.
Visually, Galati’s production is rather severe. With the exception of some pools of bright light supplied by lighting ace Kevin Rigdon and a few displays of votive candles, much of the time the large Steppenwolf stage is a dark, forbidding void, sucking up what little energy the cast has managed to muster for the evening. John Paoletti’s hodgepodge of jeans, tuxedos and other modern togs does little to illuminate the characters who wear them.