How the World Began

Last night, I saw a splendid production of “How the World Began” produced by the Boulder Ensemble Theater Company, also known as Betsy. If you hurry, you can catch the last performance of Catherine Trieschmann’s fine play this afternoon at 4 p.m. According to the director, Betsy’s production is only the fourth, after New York and two other cities.

Very briefly, the play involves a young, idealistic, single, pregnant biology graduate who comes from New York to teach biology in a rural Kansas town, at least in part because it has recently been destroyed by a tornado. Early on, she obliquely refers to creationism as gobbledygook and is challenged after school by a very troubled student. Unfortunately, she digs in her heels and refuses to apologize, with consequences both predictable and unpredictable.

The only characters in the play are Susan, the teacher; Micah, the student; and Gene, Micah’s unofficial guardian. Micah and Gene are both creationists. Gene views God as someone he would like to have a beer with – a playful god who creates Tyrannosaurus rex for fun and puts fossils in the ground to test our faith. Gene, far from being put off by Susan’s pregnancy, congratulates her on “choosing life.” Micah, it turns out, believes in the efficacy of prayer and is tormented by his faith; I will not go into more detail for fear of giving something away.

I thought it was a good play, perhaps not great, and I certainly do not agree with the New York Times reviewer who thought that the play “has too few ingredients to make for a compelling drama” and sometimes found his patience strained.

You might say that, had Susan not reacted irrationally or defensively, there would be no play. To the contrary, I thought that Ms. Trieschmann skillfully backed Susan into a corner from which there was no escape. A few times, however, I thought Susan’s reactions were unconvincing, and I find it hard to believe that a biology major could get flustered by the term, spontaneous generation. I also thought that it was unfortunate that the playwright let stand a contention that creationists are unintelligent. The play may or may not have been better if the principal had shown up to provide a moderating voice, but I was somewhat put off by the heavy-handed way the playwright kept her away.

Let reviewers like me quibble. This play deserves to be performed more often.