As the GOP primaries head to South Carolina, Gallup has released 2011 statistics, regarding political ideology, showing that for the “third straight year. . . conservatives have outnumbered moderates” in the country (the percentages actually are: “40% of Americans . . . describe their views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal.” Village theatremakers can read this as too much information, maybe irrelevant data to their work and art, but How the World Began, Catherine Trieschmann’s poised dialectic, now playing at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater through January 29, is notable because, in New York, it attempts to take a stream of conservative thinking seriously. The story of a high school science teacher, named Susan Pierce, who runs up against young-earth creationist beliefs in a rural Midwestern community, is patient and searching. The characters also include a troubled young accuser and a well-intended gossip, acting in loco parentis.
Real strength and discipline is needed for a writer to dramatize such contending Red and Blue cultural forces (especially given a climate where writers must tell liberal stories without being overtly political). The lead, a feminist single-mom-to-be and ex-New Yorker, is an outsider to Plainview, Kansas (reverse such propositions, and you’ll get an idea of what Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart were probably feeling as they encountered liberal media blackballing). Trieschmann, who has written a likeable central character–played by the fine Heidi Schreck (with strong support by Justin Kruger and Adam LeFevre)–tries to be as evenhanded and nonjudgmental as possible, for as long as she can, which is noteworthy–and rare.
David Hare, the leftist English playwright, did include a neoconservative interventionist in The Vertical Hour (one of his plays about Iraq), as portrayed by a liberal actress, Julianne Moore (she will also be playing Sarah Palin in a movie called Game Change). We know Palin has also been mocked by Tina Fey, a liberal comedienne. Meryl Streep, yet another liberal thespian, has recently opened in the film The Iron Lady as Margaret Thatcher (most definitely not a liberal). One day, a conservative actress is going to ask why these parts couldn’t go to someone who doesn’t have to do so much research–it’s not that artists can’t portray the feelings or positions that aren’t their own, however. The larger question is: Where are the conservative artists in today’s drama (beyond David Mamet); if they are being represented, where is it being nurtured and in what incubators is this being accomplished? In playwriting circles, we hear about how works by women may not receive the attention that those by men do; we question whether there is enough minority representation, too (groups largely seen as being part of the Democratic base). A John Updike of theatre or a Flannery O’Connor, staples of American literature (and conservatives), we don’t hear a lot about.
One reason why it matters is audience. In a depression, can people concerned about a healthy, vibrant theatre be so choosy about who buys their tickets? More philosophically, will a writer one day turn around and think that they had been writing propagandistically (maybe completely unintentionally but according to the dictates of the market and their times)? What would writing in the arts be like if conservative voices were heard? For example, it is not against the law to accept young earth creationism, even if it does seem rather dusty (many, from the past, believed in a version of it including Isaac Newton and maybe even Shakespeare). It gets a little trickier to dismiss as we move to the wars between Intelligent Design and Darwinism (interestingly, How the World Began tells us Darwin “studied to become a clergyman in the Anglican Church”). No matter about anyone’s political or religious affiliation, however, both theories have areas to contest (Intelligent Design–because we can’t prove an observable creator–and Darwinism–because the stages of species evolution can’t always be established).
What Religion, Science, and Education can fail to acknowledge, as we move into the culture wars, is that some of their positions may not be true in all cases and over time. The movement of atoms, based on Isaac Newton’s mechanics, for example, (he was also a Christian) is typically taught as electrons acting like planets, rotating around a nucleus (the sun). Even though the current thought is that atoms and molecules function more as clouds, most people start their understanding the old, traditional, dusty way. Currently, we are understanding that there may be a particle which moves faster than the speed of light, which would contradict Einstein—we don’t even know what kind of repercussions that would have because it hasn’t been discussed much lately (perhaps on purpose?). When people have invested years, careers, and lives in certain disciplines, it can be difficult to hear there’s more to a presumed answer.
It can be problematic to understand that conservatives could be part of the answer to theatre, too. Even if you don’t picture your average New York theatergoer as a conservative, what about the people who visit New York and see a show? What about the shows who might have a life around the nation (and elsewhere) after New York? How is our theater becoming non-exclusionary? How are we asking Americans of varying political affiliations to see much beyond musicals? Maybe, just maybe, funding would be easier if people felt safer about how their beliefs appear on the stage. In a play like How the World Began, the message may ultimately be that atheists can be more tolerant than Christian fundamentalists—but, if that’s the takeaway, we have to see the proposition proved through behavior, demonstrated through the text. As it stands, we aren’t sure we’ve witnessed the last straw regarding Susan’s tenuous teaching position—and there is drama to be had as she is surrounded, stripped of her authority and isolated and stifled–no matter how painful the emotional territory. As economically efficient as it is to have written the play as a three-hander, the audience can’t witness, participate in, and integrate the attempted path to justice–or lack thereof–in the situation. We don’t know who Susan can go to for advisory protection and what her counter-plans might be to save her job. From the opposing side, we don’t get a clear picture of who holds the power in the town regarding what we’ve come to believe is a trivial, if unintentionally biased, mistake from a good, new teacher.
How the World Began continues a strong tradition of commercial properties, such as Inherit the Wind, The Children’s Hour, The Bad Seed, and The Crucible. You’ll want more happening beneath the surface of her work, but Trieschmann is a very clear writer; she works with precision and skill. The last scene is successful in describing how a person could see a God of retribution in the world today—but the teacher herself has become a gallant victim. No matter where the country veers, or anyone’s commitment to accommodation–or the challenges to increased complexities in our drama–no one’s asking anyone to fold. Daniella Topol directs.
© 2012 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
Photo of Heidi Schreck; Credit: Carol Rosegg Photo.
Women's Project Presents New York Premiere of
How The World Began
Directed by Daniella Topol
Heidi Schreck, Adam LeFevre and Justin Kruger
New York Premiere of Catherine Trieschmann's How The World Began, her first play produced in New York since her highly-acclaimed and award-winning crooked and her debut film Angels Crest. How The World Began is directed by Daniella Topol and stars Heidi Schreck, Adam LeFevre and Justin Kruger.
The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street
Ms. Trieschmann's How The World Began, directed by Daniella Topol, and is produced by Women's Project in association with South Coast Rep and runs December 28 through January 29.
How The World Began, featuring Heidi Schreck (Circle Mirror Transformation), Adam LeFevre and Justin Kruger, is the story of a high school biology teacher (Ms. Schreck) who leaves Manhattan for a job in rural Kansas who is unprepared for the firestorm that ensues after she makes an off-handed comment about the origins of the universe, i.e. how the world began.
. Ms. Trieschmann and her director, Ms. Topol, mounted a production of How The World Began on the left coast at South Coast Rep in association with Women's Project in September and the play had its London premiere this month (November) at the Arcola Theatre. How The World Began was rewritten for the London engagement and Ms. Trieschmann has rewritten it again for the New York premiere. Both engagement received pretty high marks, especially in the London engagement: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/nov/21/how-the-world-began or http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/how-world-began-arcola-theatre or http://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/event/5299/how-the-world-began
Catherine Trieschmann’s plays include the widely-acclaimed crooked, The Bridegroom of Blowing Rock (recipient of the L. Arnold Weissberger Award), Before the Fire, The World of Others, and Hot Georgia Sunday. Her work has been produced and/or developed at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Atlanta's Theatre in the Square, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, LARK, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and LAByrinth, among others. Originally from Athens, Georgia, she received her M.F.A. from the University of Georgia but currently resides in a small town in western Kansas. Her screenplay Angels Crest, from a novel by Leslie Schwartz and directed Gaby Dellal, premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival last spring and will soon be released by Magnolia Pictures.
Daneilla Topol’s New York credits include Sheila Callaghan's Lascivious Something and Trista Baldwin’s Sand at Women’s Project, Sheila Callaghan’s Dead City (New Georges), Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End (Epic Theatre), Susan Yankowitz’s Night Sky (Baruch Performing Arts Center/Power Productions), Nicki Bloom’s Tender (Summer Play Festival), Leslie Ayvazian’s Carol and Jill (Ensemble Studio Theatre), Jakob Holder’s Housebreaking (Cherry Lane Mentor Project), Zakiyyah Alexander’s Sick? (Summer Play Festival), Peter Gil-Sheridan’s Topsy Turvy Mouse (Cherry Lane Mentor Project), Stanton Wood’s Snow Queen (Urban Stages), Lloyd Suh's Jesus in India (Magic Theatre, SF), Stefanie Zadravec's Electric Baby (Quantum Theatre, PA), Rajiv Joseph's Monster at the Door (Alley Theatre, TX), and Carla Ching's Sugarhouse at the Edge of the Wilderness opening soon at Ma-Yi Theatre, NYC .
Heidi Schreck was last seen in Circle Mirror Transformation at Playwrights Horizons in 2010 for which won or shared a Theatre World Award, OBIE Award (for ensemble), and Drama Desk Award (for ensemble). She also appeared in The Language Archive at The Roundabout, Drum of the Waves of Horikawa at HERE (for which she won an OBIE Award for her performance). She also performed in productions with Target Margin, The Foundry, Clubbed Thumb, 13P, The Talking Band, and SP in New York and around the country with Center Theatre Group; Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Long Wharf, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Empty Space, Bay Street Theatre, Sundance Theatre Lab, On the Boards and Printer's Devil Theatre.
Adam LeFevre has performed on Broadway in the plays The Devil's Disciple, Our Country's Good, Summer And Smoke, and the musicals Footloose, Mamma Mia, and the 2009 revival of Guys And Dolls. Off-Broadway credits include Turnbuckle, The Boys Next Door, The View From Here, The Doctor's Dilemma, Frank Langella's Cyrano, The Marriage of Bette And Boo, and Herman Kline's Mid-Life Crisis. He has appeared in numerous television shows including Empire Falls and Recount for HBO. His many films include Return of the Secaucus 7, Only You, The Bounty Hunter, and Romance and Cigarettes.
Justin Kruger is a recent graduate of Rutgers Mason Gross School of and is making his New York debut with Women's Project.
Scenery and costumes are designed by Clint Ramos, lights by Brian H Scott, and Sound by Darron L West. Jack Gianino is the production stage manager.
How The World Began is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award. This production is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Jann Leeming/Little Family Foundation, New York Community Trust, Shubert Foundation, and Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. In addition, this production is supported by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs in the City of New York, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Speaker Christine Quinn, and Council Member Gale A. Brewer.
34 Years of Presenting Women Theater Artists
Women's Project is playing a hot hand this fall season with its widely acclaimed Milk Like Sugar by Kirsten Greenidge recently extended through November 27 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater co-presented by Playwrights Horizon and La Jolla Playhouse.
Founded in 1978 by Julia Miles, and now under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Julie Crosby, Women's Project provides a stage for women playwrights and directors, who even today receive fewer than 20% of professional production opportunities nationwide.
Women ' s Project produces theater created by women, providing a forum for women's perspectives on political, social, and cultural topics. During its 33 years, countless artists have achieved significant recognition through WP productions, including Anne Bogart, Eve Ensler, Maria Irene Fornes, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Leigh Silverman, and Anna Deavere Smith, among the many. Women's Project has produced staged over 600 mainstage productions and developmental projects, and published eleven anthologies of plays by women.
Recently acclaimed plays include Freshwater, Aliens with Extraordinary Skills, crooked, Sand, Or, Smudge, Lascivious Something and Apple Cove.
Women's Project moves to the Cherry Lane Theatre for the world premiere of We Play For The Gods, conceived and created by the sixteen artists of the Women's Project Lab for playwrights, directors, and producers. The show runs June 1 through 23.
How the World Began performs Tuesday through Sunday evenings at 7:30pm with matinees Sundays at 3:00pm.. There are no performances New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.
Tickets for How The World Began are $60 and may be purchased from Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, noon to 8:00 pm daily or online at ticketcentral.com. Post-show discussions will follow performances on 19, and 26.