The Rep

“How the World Began” – It’s complicated

Evolution bumps into creationism in a Kansas town, but Catherine Trieschmann's play is really about people.

By - Jan 21st, 2013 03:39 pm

Ben Charles, Marty Lodge and Deborah Staples in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2012/13 Stiemke Studio production of How the World Began. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Leave your preconceptions at the door of the Rep’s production of How the World Began (through Feb. 24 at the Stiemke Studio Theater).

This problem play is not oratorical theater in the manner of Inherit the Wind, but an intimate exploration of the intersecting (and sometimes clashing) attitudes of three ordinary people trying to come to terms with their divergent views of, literally, how life began on earth.  None of the three characters is what you think they are going to be. Their dynamic interaction, played through without intermission, makes for gripping theater.

Kansas playwright Catherine Trieschmann set her play in fictional Plainview, Kansas, shortly after a tornado has devastated the small town and taken 17 lives in the process. Susan Pierce, a high school science teacher newly arrived from New York on a government program that enables her to get her certification while teaching in a rural school, is less secure in her communication skills than perhaps she should be. Micah Staab, a teenage boy orphaned by the storm, appears firm in both his religious beliefs and his beliefs in how people should behave. And Gene Dinkel, with whom Micah is now staying, is the former postmaster (the post office having blown away). Dinkel fancies himself a peacemaker but may or may not be instigating the trouble he is ostensibly trying to smooth over.

Dinkel may be more sophisticated than he lets on. Micah, having survived the storm, is wracked with guilt. And Susan’s unwed pregnancy elicits responses in both Kansas natives the audience may not expect.

The performances, under Brent Hazelton’s direction, are stellar. Ben Charles, as Micah, actually convinces you that he is a teenager. Marty Lodge, as Dinkel, has just the right amount of ostensible naïveté and smoothness as he messes where he really doesn’t belong. And Deborah Staples, as Susan, moves believably among a variety of emotions.

Their interaction is a riveting exploration of contrasting philosophies, even though nothing is ever really resolved. Nor, perhaps, should it be, because some of the questions posed have no answers.

If there is any fault to be found, it is that Deborah Staples, a Rep Associate Artist, sounds straight out of the midwest.  New York – both the city and the state – possesses a variety of accents and inflections, but she uses none of them.  If she didn’t keep reminding you via dialog references that she is from New York, you wouldn’t believe it. Maybe you don’t anyway.

What you do believe is the characters, who actually come to care about each other despite being virtual strangers.

For tickets, visit the Milwaukee Repertory Theater website or call the box office, (414) 224-9490.

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Categories: A/C Feature 3, Theater

0 thoughts on “The Rep: “How the World Began” – It’s complicated”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Loved the play but had one problem with it. A liberal, feminist New York teacher would not fail to correct the notion that “Ms.” is a new form of “Miss” rather than the substitute for “Miss” or “Mrs.” that it was intended to be. Ms. does not mean unmarried, which the farmer implies and the teacher accedes to in the play. This character would know better, and was feisty enough at the outset to have corrected him.

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