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The Creation of the World and Other Business


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Avenue Theatre

It's a drag: most of the great playwrights of our time have written only a few great plays. That's especially bad news for theater companies that would like to put on a Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller play but realize that all the classics have been done to death. Artistic directors are left to comb through the lesser works of the great authors, hoping to find a brilliant drama that's somehow been overlooked. And then we're treated to productions of plays like Williams's Clothes for a Summer Hotel and Miller's The Creation of the World and Other Business, written when their authors were no longer at the top of their form.

Arthur Miller was fortunate enough to have about 15 years when he could do no wrong. Then he woke up one morning and could do no right. He must have felt a little like Adam, for whom everything was peachy until he was cast out of the Garden of Eden. The paradise of genius is now forbidden to Miller, who in some 25 years of trying has still not been able to return to his old level of craft.

The early 70s opus The Creation of the World and Other Business is Miller's uninspired take on Adam and Eve. Many critics have referred to it as a "tongue-in-cheek" retelling, but those who call it that probably started tuning out after the cutesy first act, ignoring the play's transformation from light comedy into dull, stilted polemic. Unfortunately, Miller's mystery play does not work particularly well as comedy or drama.

The initial scenes in the Garden of Eden are cloyingly adorable: Adam and Eve frolic merrily, swimming, giggling, and playing handball and doctor. The jokes are shockingly obvious, and some even seem lifted from Mark Twain's much funnier depiction of Adam and Eve. Up in heaven, the egotistical God and his fawning angels sparring with the vain, scheming Lucifer establish rather horrifyingly that George Burns in these supernatural roles is cleverer and more charismatic. Many of Miller's one-liners rely on intentional anachronism, such as God's ability to foresee Notre Dame and Elvis Presley.

When Adam and Eve snarf down the forbidden apple and, to paraphrase Bill Cosby, everybody has to get out of the pool, the tone of Miller's play changes drastically. The jokes all but disappear, and Miller the wiseacre becomes Miller the rabbi lecturing us about Big Issues, sounding like a doddering grandpa reciting a long-winded story we've heard before. In Miller's vision, Lucifer is not so much a personification of evil as a well-meaning Machiavelli trying to carry out the spirit if not the letter of God's law, and it's God's vanity and incapacity for understanding that have led to the fall of man. Parallels are drawn between the crimes of Lucifer and Cain, and Miller's treatment of Eve enables us to see the Almighty Lord as the world's first chauvinist wank.

Miller's play adds little to our understanding of the Bible. It really looks like the work of a playwright who's run dry. At one point, God tells us that he relies on instinct in his creations: he does something, and only afterward does he discover the reasons. The same might be said of Miller, but the only reason I can imagine for the writing of this play is a pressing need to pay off the mortgage on the summer home.

Josh White III's production is not so much a revival of Miller's play as a frantic but unsuccessful attempt at resuscitation. White comes to Avenue Theatre with impressive genes: he's the grandson of folksinger Josh White. But as a director he lacks subtlety. Miller's script is made more obvious by actors who tend to overemote and gesticulate broadly. Vincent Raye's God is one of the main culprits, bellowing with all the subtlety of a foghorn. Michael Thibeault's Lucifer comes off as more bitchy than brilliant, better suited to a role as a troubled teen on TV's 21 Jump Street than as God's fallen angel. Dean Dedes and Mary Gallagher make a cute couple as Adam and Eve, but their performances remain on one level: at first they're all giddy happiness, then all dissatisfied whining.

In White's interpretation there's no middle ground. The characters are either blissful or angst-ridden, and because there's no differentiation, all emotion seems to be on the surface. Only John Keith Miller's Cain manages some moments of profound insight into his character. Something seems to be going on in his head besides what's on the page. Otherwise, this production of Creation of the World fails to provide a compelling reason for resurrecting the play. Even the costumes lack imagination. Rather than the plain white body suits the original Broadway production used for Adam and Eve, Avenue gives us a couple scampering around in their skivvies. And in the Garden of Eden one might at least expect Adam to wear a clean-looking pair of drawers. v

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