- KERA radio story:
- Online review here
- Expanded online story:
The Dallas Theater Center has been rehearsing a new show. But the cast and crew have also been writing it at the same time. That’s only fitting because it’s a play about creativity — in this case, the creation of the world.
[ambient rehearsal sounds, muttering, pages being turned]
Kevin Moriarty is doing what one usually doesn’t see artistic directors do — at least during rehearsal. He’s consulting a Bible.
MORIARTY: First person to find in the Bible where God says bring the sacrificial animals into the Ark wins a prize.”
In October, Moriarty started a workshop to adapt several medieval plays. The show had already been announced in the Theater Center’s season as In the Beginning. But there really was no script yet; hence, the workshop. it would be an ensemble-generated piece, working with Moriarty’s new, hand-picked company of actors.
But in reading the medieval mystery plays, the director, his actors and designers soon found the dramas weren’t compelling — not as compelling as the stories the plays originally drew from: the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark.
MORIARTY: “The first 10 chapters of Genesis are the primeval history. And they have a kind of mythic power in addressing the most fundamental questions of what it is to be human: the first murder, the creation of man and woman, the first act of redemption and kindness, the first mass genocide. They all occur in those first 10 books.”
So Moriarty and his company began to read different translations of Genesis. They discussed their own beliefs, their own lack of belief. And these contributions started to shape the script.
VELA: “It was a very open, collaborative process. And you know, people disagreed. But that’s good, that’s good in a creative process.”
Workshopping a play like this — that is, improvising a script while you’re staging it — sounds unconventional or risky. But it’s relatively common with new plays. In fact, the Theater Center has a tradition of adapting literary works to the stage like this. Two examples: Founding director Paul Baker did it with William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Former artistic director Adrian Hall did it with Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.
A drama about the Biblical creation of the world also may seem a box office risk. It could offend scriptural fundamentalists. And it may not interest all those people who figure they already know how Adam and Eve end up.
But it, too, may not be so chancey as it appears. There’s actually a big, potential audience in church organizations. They may not come to a lot of plays, but it’s a good bet many will probably see this one.
No, what’s truly unusual and risky about In the Beginning is what Moriarty and his company did next: They consulted 14 local religious ministers and scholars, including Rabbi Oren Hayon of Temple Emanu-el. They interviewed them and incorporated some of what they said directly into the script.
The risk? Imagine Macbeth with critics and historians onstage quibbling about the characters and the action. There have been centuries of stagings and adaptations of stories from the Bible. But how many try to parse the meaning of the Genealogies (all those “begats”)?
FOSTER: “I’ve been a parish pastor for 25 years. I’ve never had anything come close to this experience before.”
Foster says he was skeptical at first. The Theater Center’s reaching out for input from people of faith might just be a piece of public relations goodwill and nothing more.
Then he heard his words coming out of an actor’s mouth. And other actors presenting counter arguments. Rabbi Hayon is even personified onstage. Foster was impressed by the inclusiveness, by the tolerance of different ideas and the search for common ground. At one point in the show, even audience members will be able to offer questions or responses.
FOSTER: [The Theater Center production is] “not after trying to solve what a lot of people disagree on. I think they’re just trying to lay it all out there.”
Still, this sounds like it could be an open-minded Bible class with songs and costumes. But Foster says that when you preach these stories, you theologize. You interpret. It’s an intellectual response.
It’s another thing, he says, to see Cain kill Abel in cold blood – while Johnny Cash’s version of the Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt,” plays in the background.
FOSTER: “You appreciate the power of the story far more than you would through the media of study or preaching. I’m seeing and thinking about these stories in a whole different way because it’s being lived out in front of me.”
The actors make you a witness to murder. The first murder.
CASH: “And you could have it all — my empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt.”
Image of John Foster from his blog.