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A CurtainUp Review
The Creation of the World and Other Business
by Les Gutman
First, a bit of history. This play premiered on Broadway in 1972. It had been five years since Arthur Miller's last Broadway play (The Price). His much-anticipated return was not well-received. In Time Magazine, Jack Kroll called it "stultefyingly [sic] boring muddleheadness;" Clive Barnes, writing in The New York Times, was kinder but not supportive.
The behind-the-scenes story may explain a part of the problem. Rehearsals began with Harold Clurman at the helm and a cast including, among others, Barbara Harris and Hal Holbrook. By the time it opened, Clurman was gone, Harris had been replaced twice (the second time by the producer's wife, Zoe Caldwell) and George Grizzard had taken over for Holbrook. Miller responded to the disappointment by going to work on a musicalized version of the show, Up From Paradise, which was produced two years later.
I mention all of this detail because I find much in this production, by Stari Repertory Theatre, to appreciate, and little to carp about. Essentially a parable of a parable, Creation is Miller's spin on the first book of The Bible, complete with Adam (Paul Sparks) and Eve (Valerie Stanford), Cain (Tom Pearl) and Abel (Preston Dane), God (Kent Alexander) and that black sheep of his family of angels, Lucifer (Tony Torn). After two decades of grim storytelling, Miller decided to try his hand at comedy. Perhaps it was the critics who couldn't make the adjustment.
This is not to suggest that Creation lacks a heavy-handed moral. Following as it does The Price, it underscores one of the essential themes of the Miller canon, that for every choice we make we must pay a price, and traces that notion back to the Almighty. Christian theology may have a doctrine of "original sin"; Miller's orthodoxy introduces the notion of original dilemma. In his Eden, everything is good, innocent and of equal weight. Having created man in his image, and then fashioned woman from man, there is only one choice: to eat, or not to eat, the apple, and it exists simply so man can show that he is not an animal -- that he respects God. God needs for Adam and Eve to procreate, but lacks a tool by which to persuade his progeny to multiply.
Enter Lucifer. What Miller's God has in power, he lacks in wisdom. Lucifer has wisdom in spades, and lots of ideas. Let good and evil coëxist in heaven, he tells God. Then, there will be a means of making sex exciting. (Right now, Adam is as content kissing a tree as kissing Eve.) Moreover, Lucifer insists, there will be eternal peace on earth. It's God's choice; he banishes Lucifer to Hell. Let the wars begin. For his opening volley, Lucifer picks an apple from the tree and entices Eve into taking a bite.
It's all quite silly, cartoonish even, and it's easy to see how one could have trouble accepting Miller in this vein. Even though he's never serious, he never forgets his message. And the man can be funny (yet Neil Simon needn't lose sleep). Thrust into the desert, the pregnant Eve complains about the blowing sand and begs Adam to dig them a hole to rest in. "If God wanted us to dig holes, he would've given us claws," Adam says. "If he had meant for us to live in a windstorm, he would have put our eyes in our armpits," she replies.
Perhaps what makes this production work where the original failed is director Oleg Kheyfets' fanciful vision of it. Populated with a fine cast, several members of which found their way uptown from their usual downtown haunts, Creation is more akin to The Skin of Our Teeth than Death of a Salesman or The Crucible. Simon Pastukh's sets and costumes are in on the fun, as are the musical choices and exemplary sound design of Renzo Zanelli and Christopher Berg and even Dusty Ray's lighting.
Kent Alexander (a hefty black man) plays God deliciously, as if he were a perplexed camp counselor for pre-pubescents. When we first see him, he is dressed in an orange tee-shirt, camo-shorts and boots. Paul Sparks exudes a lot of naive charm as Adam, developing a set of frustrations and some degree of cynicism as things progress. We expect surprises from Tony Torn, an actor who seems to lack fear. This time he shocks us by modulating his performance, avoiding the obvious extravagances for which playing the devil may seem to be a license. Pearl (especially so) and Dane acquit themselves well as the original siblings, and also as the angels of death and mercy, respectively, in the first act.
I remain a bit mystified about the reception of the original production of this play. Perhaps we have changed as audiences, perhaps it's just me, but this is an effort well worth the trek all the way up the west side. As we ponder the nature of good and evil in the world, it's an apologue well worth our attention.
ARTHUR MILLER LINKS
The Man Who Had All the Luck
The Price in the Berkshires and NY
All My Sons in NY and London
The American Clock
Death Of a Salesman and Second Thoughts
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan in the Berkshires and NY
Mr. Peter's Connections
A View From the Bridge and Second Thoughts
The Last Yankee and I Can't Remember Anything (with Joseph Chaikin)
Arthur Miller Playwright's Album