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Everyman, a medieval morality play on steroids

Two St. Albert actors star in Concordia University's striking production of Carol Ann Duffy's stunning update of a medieval morality play

At first glance, it seems odd that an institution such as Concordia University would stage Everyman, playwright Carol Ann Duffy’s update on a 15th-century morality play. 

After all, morality is no longer defined as it was nearly eight centuries ago, and North America is such a mashup of different cultures and races. A morality play appears preachy and out-of-context with current sensibilities. 

Director Caroline Howarth explained every two years the theatre program mounts the Second Shepherd’s Play, a medieval mystery play, as a way of giving students exposure to different styles.  

“I was looking for a classical play and I found an adaptation of Carol Ann Duffy’s Everyman. It’s not a classical play, but it follows the structure and story of medieval plays, and layers it with contemporary issues,” Howarth said. 

In the original, the play was an allegorical account of Everyman where good and evil deeds were tallied by God in ledger, and the character faces his actions at death. Duffy turns her adaptation into an assault on a materialism-obsessed modern era as well as a reminder of our own mortality.  

In Duffy’s account, Everyman played by St. Albert’s Jenn Ethier, leads a wealthy, hedonistic life. The play opens with Everyman’s birthday party, a wild event fueled by drugs, booze and some crazy dancing. When Death arrives, Everyman’s friends desert her. Alone she is forced to account for past transgressions. 

Throughout life, Everyman has used her über wealth as a solution to all problems while ignoring poverty, famine and the crumbling ecological state of the planet. 

“It’s like Christmas Carol. It’s a similar way of looking at things Everyman didn’t do with family, friends and the obsession with wealth, while ignoring people and the Earth,” said Connor Greenough. He is a Bellerose High graduate now in his third year at Concordia. He plays four bundled characters: Father, Passion, Insight and Weatherman. 

In this 75-minute production the hero moves from ignorance to knowledge. Duffy, who was the United Kingdom’s poet laureate from 1999 to 2019, conveys her project through verse. 

“The text allows you to explore and create a world. It was appealing for the actors because it gave them the opportunity to dig in. It deals with deep issues – the responsibility to Earth, responsibility to each other, what it means to be good to people, the belief in God, faith, consumerism and environmentalism,” Howarth said. 

While the play has elements of spirituality, it is not linked to a particular belief system Greenough added. 

“In one scene, God is seen as someone who says man invented religion and he never wanted to be worshipped,” he said. 

Howarth cast St. Albert Catholic High graduate Ethier in the lead role mainly because of the strength she conveyed onstage. 

“She knew the play. She had done a production in high school. At the audition, she connected with the character, and I thought it would be interesting to have a woman in the lead role. And part of it is it gives students a challenge in a role they can excel at,” Howarth said. 

“As for Connor, he’s got a grounded presence onstage. He’s young, but he has a grounded energy, especially as Father.”  

In addition to Ethier and Greenough, two Paul Kane High graduates are contributing backstage. Kristin McLagan is the stage manager and Jennifer Shermak assists. 

“It’s a good introspection into the human condition,” Greenough said. 

Howarth concurred, saying, “I want the audience to walk away thinking of our own lives and if in that position, what would they see in their lives? If forced into a reckoning, what would you do?” 

Everyman takes place March 17 to 19 at Concordia University, 7128 Ada Blvd. Tickets are $16 to $21, and are available at www.tixonthesquare.ca or the door.     


Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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