In the beginning...


Adapted and directed by Matthew Freeman
Handcart Ensemble
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Jenny Sandman

When a guy dressed all in white appears on a solid black stage and proclaims, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," this is definitely a play about God.

Matthew Freeman has taken five medieval pageant plays and sewn them together into a play called Genesis. The pageant plays reenacted the Biblical stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, and Abraham for illiterate and rural audiences, most of whom were unfamiliar with the stories -- Masses being conducted in Latin at the time. The pageant plays brought religion to the far reaches of Britain and Europe, and introduced what became modern theatre to the world. To more recent audiences, the pageant plays are alarmingly moralistic, a sermon wrapped in the language of Paradise Lost. Which, really, they are.

So it's a surprising choice for a production. Granted, they are often done in Europe, with period dress and authentic pageant wagons, and Everyman is studied in every World Lit class; but in a small black box, with no visual stimulation or sense of a larger purpose, these plays are too grandiose and far too archaic. To modern ears, soliloquies from Lucifer on the sins of vanity and pride sound strange; it's as if priests were to suddenly begin lecturing credit-card companies on the sin of usury. Who talks about usury these days? Though it is very cool to have Lucifer in a play.

There were some startling moments. Each of the men got a chance to play God (in a blatant analogy, God was he who wore the watch). When Cain and Abel made their sacrifices to God, they used real money; Noah, before being visited by God, was a falling-down drunk complete with bottle of Beefeater's. But there were some cliched moments, as well; everyone wore all white, and made their speeches face front to the audience. The pieces were patched together with a weird, King Missile-ish sort of music, which only highlighted the essential strangeness of the language.

The small cast had obvious talent (Jay Leibowitz, especially, had great presence) but they've been saddled with a stagnant play. Such dated, stilted language requires action, some movement, some sort of arc. The actors, for want of action, overemphasized the words, and so the whole thing became overwrought. It's New York -- Freeman should take it to the streets, move it through the park. The text is too dense for a black-box production.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman