Genesis | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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GENESIS, Pegasus Players. Whether you believe Genesis was written by Moses with divine guidance or think it belongs on the mythology bookshelf along with Gilgamesh and the Odyssey, there's no question that the Bible's first book is compelling literature--poetic, morally complex, and rich in incident. But east-coast actor Max McLean's evening of theatrical storytelling drains the text's dramatic potential rather than enhancing it. Alternating between affected narration and sometimes kitschy impersonations of various biblical figures (birthright-bartering Esau comes off like Bobcat Goldthwait), McLean displays impressive memory and articulation but not an ounce of honest emotion. Every awed whisper, every climactic crescendo is calculated for effect rather than an artist's response to genuinely felt experience. Director Jonathan Wilson's efforts to heighten key moments (strobe-light lightning during Noah's flood, for instance) only emphasize the artifice; and the smarmy attempts at humor, almost all based on condescending attitudes toward women, made my skin crawl.

Scripted by playwright Buzz McLaughlin from the simplified New International Version of the Bible (which pales in comparison to the grandeur of the King James edition and the dramatic power of the Schocken Bible translation), and presented here in association with religious broadcaster Jerry Vreeman (who hopes to turn the show into a PBS special), this two-act tour through the ancient tribal chronicle is glorified sermonizing, not theater; McLean may do all right preaching to the converted, but as an actor he's phony as a three-dollar bill. --Albert Williams

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