(“How the World Began” plays at the Gough Street Playhouse through March 8, 2015).
Custom Made Theater, after 16 years of life, the last six at the charming Gough Street Playhouse, in the beautiful church there, is presenting the Bay Area premiere of “How the World Began” by Catherine Trieschmann, a highly awarded younger American playwright. Ms. Trieschmann, from Athens, Georgia, now lives in Hays, Kansas — a town much like the setting of her play. We really feel at home in the little school room freshly occupied by Susan, a newly arrived, and pregnant, high school Biology teacher from New York, clearly fleeing her past.
Susan (Mary McGloin) takes charge of her new job masterfully, ready to bring enlightenment and good deeds to the remote Kansas landscape, which we can see out the one big window facing the barren prairie. Susan gives us lots to laugh at, too, as she tries to deal with the cow stench coming through her window. McGloin gives us a powerful and fascinating multi-faceted Susan, strong, sensitive, and surprising at every moment. We cannot take our eyes off her, as she unwraps her own tangled motivations, while trying to make herself at home in the recently and horribly tornado-ravaged little town of Plainview. McGloin takes us with her every step of the way, brilliantly embodying a young woman who has taken her solitary pregnancy to the plains and is also trying to be helpful to the afflicted town. She has the teacher’s idealism and the scientist’s material knowledge to keep her going. But she is walking into a hornet’s nest. We could watch her wrestle with demons all night and never tire because McGloin embodies a Susan we want to know better, at each step. Her worried smile and long red hair alone could steal the show.
But no, we have two more big talents on board. First, Tim Garcia shows up, as Micah, one of Susan’s Biology students. Garcia’s Micah is charming as he nervously ruminates, twitches, wriggles, and worries. We wonder about his history and his struggles. We feel for the slight and driven boy with floppy dark hair and serious questions. He is trying to be “nice,” in a very Midwestern way, but something is bothering him, and Garcia makes us feel his passions. Susan has used a word which upset his Christian faith in class, and he cannot let it go.
He has recently lost family in the tornado. Uprooted, he is isolated and alienated, even living with a friend’s family. He, too, is fascinating to watch and listen to, as we try to understand. There’s tremendous power in Mr. Garcia’s performance and in Micah’s honesty, which puts him in direct conflict with the science that Susan is professing. Their dance of Bio versus Bible goes back to the Darwin debates, but playwright Treishmann is more interested in how hard they try to understand each other, and how they circle around accepting or rejecting each other’s good intentions. Together they are explosive, insightful, and frank, constantly upping the odds with forthrightness and intensity. McGloin and Garcia do superb justice and bring great passion to the tornado coming between them.
They could be mother and son, they could be Mary and Jesus, they could be Darrow & Bryan. Trieschmann and director Leah Abrams keep us guessing every step of the way. You will not be able to turn away from their elegant and eloquent dance of enlightenment and confusion. Director Leah Abrams gives them natural movements and natural rhythms that make the excitingly acted 80 minute drama fly by.
Into the garden of knowledge glides one more superbly talented actor, to complete a threesome: Malcolm Rodger plays Gene, complete with Kansan twang and truck driver’s baseball cap. He tries to make peace between the pregnant teacher from New York and Micah, his son’s friend. Gene has taken Micah into his home and is “looking out” for him. What goes on amongst these actors is music and magic to experience. The stakes slowly rise, and reasonable, rational surprises give us more and more understanding of what’s at stake here for each person.
They are each trying to be human, charitable, spiritual, and true to their beliefs. The play creates a beautiful and stirring pattern—that skeptics and believers and everyone else will enjoy. It doesn’t solve the problems, but makes them more human, and more humbling, and more haunting at each unexpected step. Don’t miss this tour-de-force.
For further information click here.
“How the World Began” by Catherine Trieschmann. Produced by Custom Made Theatre Company. Director: Leah S. Abrams. Scenic Design: Erik LaDue. Lighting Design: Colin Johnson. Costumes: Brooke Jennings. Sound/Music: Liz Ryder. Technical Director: Stewart Lyle. Fight Choreographer: Jon Bailey.
Susan: Mary McGloin. Micah: Tim Garcia. Gene: Malcolm Rodgers.
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