“Magnificence” and “Everyman” are two medieval one-act “morality plays” that offer a lesson in theater history and a bit of old-style, common-man entertainment.
They’re the sort of plays only a university would stage: unusual, esoteric and unlikely to sell a million tickets. Hooray for a university in town that, while definitely repressed and stodgy in a lot of ways, manages to keep us guessing when it comes to its theater productions.
Both plays are from the early 1500s and offer characters who are personifications of abstract ideas, with names like Felicity, Liberty, Knowledge, Folly and Poverty. “Magnificence,” by John Skelton and adapted by BYU’s Eric Samuelsen, is about a prince named Magnificence (Joshua Long) who is advised by several parties to ignore Measure (Hannah Stum) — as in moderation or prudence — and live high on the hog.
Leading the charge against Measure is Counterfeit Countenance (Laura Reyna), a leather-clad riot girl who makes her minions — including Crafty Conveyance (Aaron Spjute) and Cloaked Collusion (Matt McLane) — cower in fear.
In the end, Magnificence learns the dangers of listening to worldly advice when it comes to matters of salvation.
“Everyman” was written anonymously and is far more serious than “Magnificence.” In it, Everyman (Allyson Everitt) is contacted by Death (Stum) and told to find one companion for her journey to the next world. But whom should she take? Her Goods (Melissa Pearl Burk)? Her Knowledge (Spjute)? Her Good Deeds (Matthew Cloward)?
In both plays, the language has been somewhat modernized. (“Let me catch y’all up on the gossip,” Counterfeit Countenance says, just before rapping.) But despite that, the stories are difficult to follow. It’s the sort of flowery speech where you can pay rapt attention and still occasionally realize you have no idea what the last 10 lines were about.
But the cast deserves praise for using all manner of body language and facial expressions to convey their meanings. We may not always know what they’re saying, but we know their type.
Long is good as the whiny, Pippin-like prince Magnificence, and Everitt carries “Everyman” admirably. As Death, Stum scared me, but in a good way.
Director Loraine Edwards has put some of “Magnificence” to music, allowing certain characters to sing their personas rather than just speak them. Thus we have Reyna rapping with startling aplomb, and Burk belting out a fabulous number as Courtly Abuse. There is fun to be had, even when being subtly preached to by a morality play.
Should you go? It is probably more enjoyable for theater connoisseurs than for Everyman, so make your decision accordingly.
Part of the experience of this show was sitting on the floor. In order to create the same atmosphere as when these plays were first performed, there were no chairs (except for a few, if you were old or otherwise infirm). Cushions were provided, and patrons were encouraged to dress casually. The theater was really hot, too; I don't know if that was by accident or design, but it made me feel like I was in 16th-century England.