Sometimes, a director can ruin a perfectly good literary work. This time around, the opposite happened. Director Jonathan Harris and his stunning team save Arthur Miller’s The Creation of the World and Other Business!
When Arthur Miller wrote the play, he was already past his best creative years. Usually known for his obsession with guilt and responsibility, his characters are conscious to a fault of their social responsibilities. His recurring themes of self-purpose, life and death, choices made, and consequences are always depicted with intellectual bite and sharp, edgy confrontation by characters. Although The Creation of the World and Other Business is also a philosophical exploration of the human race – its morality, its purpose, and justice, Miller’s usual depth and sharpness are missing. His characters are lighter and the dialogue rarely goes below the the surface. Not quite the Miller one would expect. That’s why it was a failure critically and commercially when it debuted in the early 1970s .
In his play The Creation of the World and Other Business, Miller attempts to retell the Bible’s story of Genesis in a humorous way. It is divided into three sections: The first is life in the Garden of Eden, where every creature, from bees and elephants to angels and humans (Adam and Eve), live in a harmony and praise God. The only problem is that God is vain and not too intelligent. He needs the humans to multiply, but has no idea how to make that happen. His bright but fallen angel, Lucifer, has an idea to let humans taste the forbidden fruit (apple) so that they will know what to do. God absolutely forbids that, because he does not want his children to lose their innocence and gain knowledge of evil. In the second act, Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise, though both God and Lucifer watch them and battle to gain their admiration (or power over them). The last part deals with Kane, eaten by jealousy, killing his brother Abel. He has to face his punishment – being condemned to the life of a wanderer.
If one of Miller’s least loved plays gains the audience’s admiration in Ottawa, it is completely thanks to the interpretation of 9th Hour Theatre. They infuse every segment of the performance with a strong philosophical vision, leaving no phrase and no comic gag without purpose. In George Dutch’s dramaturgy and Jonathan Harris’ direction, the face of good and evil blend, making it harder with each new scene to determine which is which. Does God’s vanity and justice of inequality qualify as good? On the other hand, does Lucifer’s leaning towards peace- however strange it might be – make him bad? These existential questions are left to the viewers to answer.
The biggest strength of the play lies in the actors. Everyone on stage pulls their own weight in an impeccable manner, making the production memorable. They make every moment credible and add a special atmosphere to every scene, so that the Heaven and Earth emerge before the audience in all their purity, beauty, and ugliness. The self-righteous authority of God combined with the blind faith and admiration of angels get intensely, deeply and intellectually confronted by Lucifer’s logic; Eve’s intellect and curiosity has to stand up to Adam’s simple mind; and, finally, the culmination of the story – Kane’s jealous nature forever seals human’s destiny. Even more than that – it feels as though the brilliant cast puts us all in front of a mirror, showing us all our strengths, faults, and myriad of unresolved dilemmas. A clownish approach to doings and misdoings of all creatures in the universe alike adds beautifully to the massage as a whole.
It is almost a perfect performance. Still, some sequences need a bit of polishing. Although the singing parts depict the harmony in Eden and disharmony on Earth well, they still need some work. The use of the soundtrack is unnecessary, or rather damaging to the show. Its effect is unnatural and even feels awkward. Nevertheless, even with these few flaws, it is a highly professionally and artistically executed performance, one that would make Arthur Miller proud.
The Creation of the World and Other Business plays in the studio at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre July 23 to August 8.
The Creation of the World and Other Business
9th Hour Theatre
Directed by Jonathan Harris
Music direction by Robin Guy
Dramatugy by: George Dutch
Featuring: Robin Guy, Benoit Trudel, Mary Beth Pongrac, David Plouffe, Johnny Eaton, and George Dutch
Also including the talents of: Flo Alexander, Elizabeth Chant, Gabrielle Lazarovitz, Susan Marriner, Sarah Nieman, Andrew Palangio, Mishelle Stott, and Tanya Sylvester