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Saturday, April 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 54.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
Arts

THEATER

In the Beginning by Mercury Players is a clever but flawed creation
Almost paradise

It's a fun, well-crafted story, but not a subtle one.
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For a lot of us -- even those of us who deplore Christian fundamentalism -- the apparently never-ending argument over evolution versus creationism has become awfully tiresome. So the Mercury Players deserve credit for their latest show at the Bartell Theatre, In the Beginning: An Evolutionary Musical Comedy, an imperfect but refreshing spin on How All of This Got Started. It opened Friday night.

The musical satire, whose two acts clock in at around a thrifty 45 minutes each, does a splendid job of melding the basic elements of the Biblical account of creation -- Adam, Eve, paradise, the tree, the fruit, the disobedience -- into a science-friendlier narrative. (Broadly speaking, that is -- there are still talking and singing animals, including a cunningly appropriate scaly substitute for the traditional serpent.) Actually more about "masculine" versus "feminine" paradigms than the conflict between faith and Darwin, it's a fun, well-crafted story.

But not a subtle one. In the Beginning is the sort of heavy-handed allegory Star Trek: The Next Generation used to traffic in (not necessarily a bad thing), and fans of that show will notice a resemblance in Adam to a particular type of character it used many times: the dangerously, vehemently stubborn and fearful leader who's let his power go to his head.

Christopher Babiarz does a fantastic job with the role, conveying very neatly how men, contrary to the tough, stolid nature stereotypically ascribed to them, fall prey to their emotions and consciously or unconsciously use them to prey on women, as well. And Kelly Maxwell as protagonist Eve is an excellent foil -- her fetching innocence is the highlight of the show -- while Luke Arthur's Skipper delivers sardonic charm.

Some of the cast's singing voices are a bit weak. More troublesome is the family of three bonobos. They perform the first part of their first number up in their tree, where they're a little constrained for such a big song and make you worry they're going to fall.

Further, they're at the heart of the problem with the allegory: Writers Catherine Capellaro and Andrew Rohn (they also directed) come down too hard on the side of the matriarchal bonobos, whose hippie-dippie "Love is the answer" philosophy -- complete with a prayer to a tree -- doesn't ring any truer than Adam's, and would not fly were this any other city. (If musical number "Skiddly Dee," an interspecies celebration of masturbation and unbridled coitus, ever makes it onto YouTube, right-wing pundits will have a field day with it.)

Nonetheless, the show is an entertaining ride, with catchy music and clever lyrics and dialogue. It's not as epic as the heavens and the earth, but if God saw it, He'd probably say it was good.

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