By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
The battle between creationists and evolutionists goes on. This hot topic started with Darwin in 1859, heated up in 1925’s Scopes trial, and emerges lately in the debates between presidential candidates. For instance, Republican hopeful Rick Scott says that today Texas schools teach creationism.
Thus, South Coast Repertory’s world premiere of “How the World Began” seems ripped from the headlines.
The play by Catherine Trieschmann, opened last weekend, in a riveting production, with three excellent actors under the astute direction of Daniella Topol. The action takes place in Plainview, Kansas, Bible Belt country, shortly after it has been hit by a devastating tornado.
Newly arrived from the East, high school teacher, Susan (a likeably serious Sarah Rafferty), is seen getting her class in order. Soon a student, Micah (an intense Jarrett Sleeper), enters her classroom with a question about a remark Susan made before dismissing students earlier.
In an offhand comment, she had referred to non-scientific theories for life’s beginning as “gobbledygook.” Understandably, this disturbed fundamentalist Micah, who maintains that she must apologize for disparaging his beliefs.
Susan then explains that her comment was hastily made and was not meant to refute Biblical teaching. At first, in Sleeper’s effective performance, Micah seems easy-going and naive.
We come to see, though, that he is pernicious and not about to give up his demand that she ask forgiveness from the whole school. Along the way, we’ve come to see that he is also emotionally fragile, having been traumatized by the tornado and the resulting loss of his father.
Susan, on the other hand, after taking responsibility for her misjudgement, becomes steeled against seeking further forgiveness from the school board. Teachers’ rights and separation of religion from the curriculum are her firm positions.
Coming on the scene is Gene, Micah’s guardian (a scene-stealing Time Winters).
He visits the classroom to “cool down” the incident before it becomes a hot issue in the town.
At first, he seems homespun and friendly, but it soon becomes apparent that, in his sly manipulative way, he is trying the get Susan to change her position. As the three become more adamant in their views, tensions grow and the play builds to a surprising climax.
Three reasons for the play’s considerable impact is the scenic design by Sara Ryung Clement, the lighting design by Paul Whitaker and the sound design of Darron L. West. The setting is a temporary classroom with the usual posters and functional furniture. Looking out the door and windows, though, we get the impact of the endless plains with an immense sky, changing from rainbow colors to ominous grey as the day proceeds.
The wind and its sound are a major factor, gusting in and scattering papers and ominously roaring, suggesting a possible onslaught. At one point, a frustrated Susan challenges God to wreak his havoc, And as gales become stronger, this becomes a scary moment.
“How the World Began” plays on Julianne Argyros Stage in Costa Mesa through Oct. 16.