“You got to walk that lonesome valley, you got to walk it by yourself” says an old gospel tune. Long before Woody Guthrie and countless others voiced this eternal truth, it was playing a major role in the “entertainment” of the 15th century.
That’s right: One of the earliest surviving works of English drama is “Everyman,” and it’s still a huge hit more than 500 years later. On Sunday, Great Britain’s National Theatre’s NT Live series will bring it to Macon’s Douglass Theatre via high-definition telecast.
It’s too bad that the local colleges aren’t in session; otherwise the Douglass might well seek overflow parking.
The production stars Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) in the title role. NT director Rufus Norris has recruited British poet laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy (the first Scot and the first openly LGBT person named laureate) to adapt the language of the work for the NT production.
As students of the theater can tell us, the early English drama for the most part took two forms: the Miracle Plays (dramatizing Biblical history for the unlearned) and the Morality Plays (using allegory to capture the ethical struggles that take place within the souls of all humankind.)
In “Everyman,” the latter type, the protagonist is living the good life, seemingly without a care. The use of modern dress (short skirts, for example) makes it clear that this allegorical Everyman is blessed with ample wine, women and other material and sensual delights. It’s no surprise, then, when death comes to summon him, that he turns to his wealth and his boon companions for help. Ah, but how will they respond?
As the National Theatre’s website observes, one of the great spiritual myths that confront us asks “whether it is only in death that we can understand our lives.”
Spoiler alert: What we learn in this powerful drama is the grim truth that, when we go to the grave, we take not what we have received but rather what we have given.
When: 3 p.m. July 26
Where: Douglass Theatre, 355 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Cost: $20 adults, $15 students and seniors