The New Phoenix Theatre Company opened Way Back When, An Evening of One Acts, three plays by local playwrights Grant Golden and the late Rebecca Ritchie this week. All are directed by Betsy Bittar, in her first outing directing a full production. The plays are based on biblical stories and characters.
The first and third are Creation and Way Back When by Grant Golden. The second, and I thought the best written, most interesting and engaging of the three, is In the Beginning by Rebecca Ritchie.
In the Beginning tells the story of a meeting between Adam’s wives Lilith (Pamela Rose Mangus) and Eve (Kathleen Rooney). Eve is the center of a documentary about her late husband, Adam, and is very pleased to be in the spotlight at last, even though she is not the subject of the film. As she waits for the director (Jon Summers) to complete his set-up, she begins a conversation with the woman sitting next to her on a park bench, who turns out to be Adam’s first wife. Eve is very protective of Adam’s reputation as the first man, but as the women talk, she gradually lowers her defenses. They exchange stories about Adam, who it seems was rather a bully. The highlight of the play is Eve’s description of her relationship with The Serpent. And what a relationship it was! He was a black cobra who spoke Aramaic and was her best friend and lover. As Eve tells their story, she transforms from a buttoned-down wife into a lustful woman. She also expresses her annoyance with God, asking Lilith what kind of a god would get that upset about an apple.
Ms. Rooney is first-rate as Eve. It is a pleasure to watch her gradual unfolding from the shy, self-effacing, protective wife to the sensual woman that she is. Her performance is nuanced, charming and droll. Ms. Mangus is a good foil as she tells her own story and goads Eve into revealing the true story of Adam and Eve in the film.
The other two plays, Creation and Way Back When do not fare quite as well. The concept for Creation is intriguing. God (David Lundy) has made a new planet he calls Earth, is very pleased with it and is ready for a beer and a nap on his chaise in heaven. His wife, Mrs. God (Pamela Rose Mangus), has other ideas and thinks he can make Planet Dirt more interesting. How the concept plays out is that she relentlessly scolds him until he does what she wants. Her shrill tones let up for brief moments of cajoling and seducing him into complying with her wishes. In short, God is henpecked – a very old-fashioned word, but one that fits. She rags on him about indoor vs. outdoor pillows for the chaise and a window that needs fixing. He gradually adds features she desires to the planet, but with twists she dislikes. It appears God has passive-aggressive tendencies, along with his happy-go-lucky approach to creating–having that beer and a nap after “a hard day of planet revising.”
Mr. Lundy takes it all in stride, looking somewhat bemused as he gives in to his wife’s demands. Ms. Mangus, whether by direction or choice, nags, nags, nags, and after a time her strident tones lose their luster. She is much more fun when she gets a little drunk and horny.
The last play, Way Back When, is the story of God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to prove his faith. Jon Summers is very good as Abraham, who really really wants to be the founder of a civilization but loves his son very much. His wife, Sarah (Kathleen Rooney), kvetches with him about God’s complete lack of consideration for them. They come up with a plan to save Isaac and trick God (David Lundy). Does it work? Well, yes and no. I found their excitement and self-congratulations at the bright idea of substituting a slave boy for Isaac to be disturbing, although slavery was the done thing at the time.
While the two plays are uneven, the actors do their best to present the material in an entertaining way to bring it to life for their audience.