Kristie Rolape & Gerry Rose in The Summoning of Everyman.
Photo courtesy of Savage Rose.
The Summoning of Everyman
Directed by Kelly Moore
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company sometimes follows its mission into fairly obscure territory, and this production of a 600-year old morality play written in verse certainly doesn’t feel like a sound calculation for big box office. But don’t be put off by the specter of sackcloth and ashes, for while there can be no doubt that The Summoning of Everyman is a Christian morality play, and it is staged in a church, this production offers unexpected humor and humanity.
Director Kelly Moore allows the inherent solemnity of the Renaissance-style architecture, with its high-vaulted ceiling, to help establish tone, but the introduction of songs from later periods and the use of costume changes to reflect the passing of time through different historical periods signal a claim for a more universal reading of the text. After Death (Kristie Rolape) challenges Everyman (Gerry Rose) to find a companion for his journey into the Afterlife, Everyman is spurned in turn by Fellowship (Martin French), Kindred (Brian West), Cousin (Krista Harden), Goods (James Thompson), and Good Deeds (Melinda Beck) because he has embraced materialism. As it is a morality play, there is no spoiler in revealing that Everyman finds his eventual salvation through an embrace of Christian ethics.
Revisiting such a text offers heady rumination on current affairs. Just exploring the state of Christian ethics in the current public discourse would prove a contentious debate, and a reconnection to such basic articles of faith as this play might be recommended. The staging is shot through with liturgical flourishes in the blocking and delivery of the verse, but also the inspired choices in the music, from “There is no rose of such virtue” to “Down to the River to Pray” to “Amazing Grace,” which bring a more modern connection to the audience without sacrificing the classical foundation.
Gerry Rose brings surprising range and depth to his Everyman, defying the expectations of stiffness following the verse. He charts a logical journey from hubris to redemption that is all too human. A verse play with such a stringent moral lesson can seem off-putting, and Mr. Rose brings the humor and vulnerability necessary for us to identify with this story. The remaining members of the ensemble (Rena Brown, Krista Emmelman, Isaiah Hein, Kimby Taylor-Peterson, Monte Priddy) are consistently fine, although James Thompson’s Goods is a very funny exception to the mostly sober characterizations, and Kristie Rolape makes Death a regal presence bereft of any of the usual clichés.
As I sat watching the opening night, there was a moment when I contemplated the red carpet installed across the area of the sanctuary serving as the performance space, thinking how it was an intrusive hue for a stage surface. But then my eye rose to the large blue field with white stars that Ms. Moore had installed for a backdrop, and I began to realize that the costuming had shifted just then from Colonial to something akin to mid-1800’s – perhaps post Civil War. I began to wonder if at least one subtext being explored was that Everyman’s journey to death was the Death of America. As the costuming transition resolved finally into contemporary dress, I could not help but ponder the idea that in the most divisive and toxic Presidential election year in recent history, the play was, however inadvertently, offering a moral lesson for the U.S. When asked directly about such a notion, director Moore claimed no such intention, but it is perhaps as good an example as any of the value of dusting off such storytelling antecedents and giving them a fresh run around the track. In touching upon such fundamental and unchanging truths through a classic play like The Summoning of Everyman, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company reminds us of the importance of their mission.
The Summoning of Everyman
March 24, 25, 26. 28, 31, April 1, 2 &3 @ 8:00pm
Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company
At St. Philip of Neri
236 Woodbine Street
Louisville, KY 40208
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.