HATTheatre’s ‘Creating Claire’ where God is in the details
For their “Acts of Faith” selection, HATTheatre has chosen Joe DiPietro’s Creating Claire, which focuses on the ‘Evolution vs. Intelligent Design’ debate. “Darwin vs. God.” Judging by the “intelligent” discussion my theatre mates and I had after the show, I’d say that it was a well-chosen topic.
For those of you who need a refresher course on the debate, I offer this simplistic analysis:
Intelligent Design adherents believe only that the complexity of the natural world could not have occurred by chance. Some intelligent entity must have created the complexity, they reason, but that “designer” could in theory be anything or anyone. Most, if not all, modern advocates for Intelligent Design are Christians who believe that God is the designer.
Evolutionists argue the following points: There is no God or, at least, we do not have good reason to believe that there is a God. The world developed over a longer period of time than six, twenty-four hour days. The world is much more than a few thousand years old. The life forms we see today arose from prior, extinct life forms. The majority viewpoint in the natural sciences on the age of the world and the origin of present-day life forms is correct.
Playwright DiPietro simplifies this debate by pitting two women against each other. Both scientists, but one is intractable in her belief of evolution and one who, over the course of the play, finds God and the Book of Genesis. The Evolutionist is Victoria, the Administrator of a fictitious Science Museum, played by Amy Berlin. The convert is Claire, played by Jill Bari Steinberg.
DiPietro over-simplifies the debate because he does not acknowledge different gradations of belief in both camps. He makes the argument absolute, winner take all. I assume DiPietro is Italian Catholic. He seems to rebelling against his religion by skewering the debate on the side of science, writing his main character Claire in unflattering terms by injecting jingoistic dogmatic Bible speak into her dialogue and making her the nucleus of both a workplace disruption and the catalyst of a failing marriage.
The one on one debate is complicated by, or motivated by Claire’s daughter, Abigail (played by Emma Grace Bailey), who is Autistic. Claire seeks to explore the mystical world of religion because she cannot accept that her daughter was handicapped by “natural random selection” and that through faith, she can “fix” her.
Despite the obvious prejudices DiPietro builds into his theme, this production is skewered back thanks to the smart deliberate interpretation layered on by director Zachary Owen and the sensitive heartfelt performance of Steinberg. This is Mr. Owen’s debut directorial assignment. There is no better praise to give any director than he took a piece of theatre and made it his own. In this case, in my opinion, he improved the script by making the debate fair. He had the expected first time directorial slips (you really don’t need to move set pieces that much, if at all, especially not by actors who have enough to worry about), but I’ll chalk that up to lack of mentorship on the project. His was a fine debut and I look forward to his next outing.
Mr. Owen was also blessed to have such fine actresses at his disposal.
Ms. Steinberg gave us a complicated human being, a woman with a great deal at stake, a woman divided by her scientific education and the unfairness of a challenged child. Ms. Steinberg made Claire a sympathetic character despite the play’s bias because she was the most intelligent component of her intelligent design argument.
Ms. Berlin took the stiff “Science doesn’t need a God” position but humanized it with spot on comedy and acknowledging the fissures in her own character when confronting a confused lovelorn Abigail or dealing with the death of her long-time lover who chooses “Amazing Grace” to be played at her funeral. Ms. Berlin has become an important producer in town but I wish she would take on more roles. She’s simply wonderful.
Young Emma Grace Bailey gave as accomplished a performance as her more experienced peers. Her Abigail was studied, nuanced and not overplayed. Quite an achievement considering her storyline was pretty melodramatic. The script calls for her to develop a desperate need to be loved by a boy, like “normal” girls, such need found on “Facebook” of all places and then stymied by the boy’s religious zealot of a mother who deduces that since Abigail doesn’t believe in God, she must be “a stupid retard.” Oy vey.
Unfortunately, the lone male, Scott Melton fell victim to the playwright’s unsupportable characterization of the husband, Reggie. His main task is to fall to pieces because his wife is changing their bond of dual faith. I recognize this as a potentially divisive marital issue, but again, the playwright makes Reggie intractable and unwilling to understand his wife’s journey, reducing him to unmanly tears much too often. The playwright does give us a clue that this is not the only problem of the marriage by telling us that the vacation sex they have is the first such coupling in quite a while. No sex, a special needs child, a wife turning to dogmatic religious spouting – enough to drive any man away? Perhaps, if we understood him or the marriage more, but we don’t and Mr. Melton is left to figure it out on his own, which doesn’t quite happen.
I do not blame Director Owen for the poor design elements. I am sure he made the best of what he was given. The lighting and projection work was sloppy and a distraction. The set lacked a clear character. The set pieces and costumes mismatched as if also a victim of “random selection.” If this is the “big” production of HAT’s season, they need to make it look better.
Creating Claire presents an important topic. The biased script is saved by some very good acting and directing. It’s worth your time to travel to the West End if for no other reason. If you are like my theatre posse, you will end up debating the topic far more seriously than the play.
Director Zachary Owen will be looking for three female and two male actors.September 27, 2016
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