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And God Said to Abraham

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AND GOD SAID TO ABRAHAM

Curious Theatre Branch

Watching a strong play self-destruct is like watching a multiple car crash. You know where the trouble began, but not where it will end. All you can do is taste your helplessness before the calamity occurs. A new work from Curious Theatre Branch, Scott Turner's And God Said to Abraham, boasts one of the most promising first acts ever to be undone by the second.

Turner (who also wrote Dates Without Chicks and FYT) here reworks, often hilariously, the Old Testament tale of Abraham and Sarah. The script initially parallels that childless couple's delight when God grants them a son, Isaac, and their panic when the same inscrutable God orders Abraham to sacrifice him.

Turner sets his story in a contemporary backwoods burg where the pioneering Knight family are near extinction. The raving patriarch is Winston, an isolationist Baptist with a personal god called B.L.A.H. (it stands for "Blue Light and Hum"). He lives with his patient wife Sarah and dog Blue, railing at the outsiders to whom the Knights are a local joke. In a burst of sound and fury B.L.A.H. makes Sarah pregnant. Ten years later, B.L.A.H. orders Winston to shoot his son, J.R. Afraid that J.R. will become one more corporate zombie, Winston almost does it, but then he has a bad dream that panics J.R. into accidentally shooting himself.

At this point And God Said to Abraham falls apart, foundering under the weight of its rhapsody and incoherence, its obscure rhetoric and impenetrable mythmaking. As far as I could figure out, J.R. ends up in a limbo from which B.L.A.H., enraged at His impotence on earth, cannot rescue him. There J.R. meets the hideously deformed Drifter, the spirit of a junkie now separated from his heroin-craving body. J.R. helps the Drifter discover the riddle that will connect him to the nameless goddess he reveres, and in return J.R. is allowed to return to earth and Winston.

B.L.A.H. repeatedly asks, "Give me thought about that which cannot be understood." Turner unfortunately complies all too well. He sacrifices the interest the first act aroused, with its spirited dialogue and fascinating quest for the Old Testament trappings of modern America, to incomprehensible conflicts and static speeches that leave us in our own limbo.

Turner has always had a gift for pungent, Shepard-taut dialogue in which thoughts quickly vault into emotions. But here that baroque intensity serves a plot whose private meanings defy the audience. This production is all the more frustrating because Turner's staging is superbly orchestrated, blessed with the kind of emotional clarity that the Attis Theatre, performing here recently during the International Theatre Festival, conveyed without translation.

If the actors' conviction could create coherence, And God Said to Abraham would be lucidity itself. Depicting Winston's crisis of faith, Colm O'Reilly strikes a timeless note. Playing Sarah with fearful expectancy and J.R. with touching vulnerability, Jenny Magnus exploits any warmth the script provides; Beau O'Reilly is a fascinating B.L.A.H., fulminating and collapsing. James Thoreson as the dog Blue and Paul Tamney as the imponderable Drifter are saddled with undeveloped or inexplicable parts; their hard work goes unrewarded. But then all five actors share wonderful moments that defy the context. In vain: And God Said to Abraham is a play that doesn't add up, it subtracts. Even the Old Testament, with its fatalistic worship and cruel tests, seems a realistic alternative.

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