By Joe Ferguson
When I was 7 years old, I hid a book about evolution behind my bed. I bought it at a rummage sale for a quarter. It was one of those science-for-kids books, and it had this silhouetted illustration of ape-to-man that I used to stare at. I knew, however, that if my minister father found that book there’d be hell to pay--I’d heard his rants from the pulpit, and I didn’t want to be on the direct receiving end. That book was gone one day when I got home from school, and I never asked my parents where it went.
I left that life 30 years ago, but was reacquainted when I attended Catherine Trieschmann’s How the World Began, a play that addresses the conflict of science and religion in small-town America. Over a quick 80 minutes, Ms. Trieschmann’s intelligent play presents the story of a doggedly religious teenager who becomes exasperated by a thoughtless remark from his atheistic science teacher.
Biochemistry teacher Susan Pierce, played by Mary McGloin, has moved to Plainview, Kansas, a town devastated by a killer tornado. In a recent lecture on Darwinian evolution, Ms. Pierce refers to other beliefs or perspectives as gobbledygook. This offhand comment upsets one of her students, Micah, played by Tim Garcia, who shows up after hours, bible in hand, to confront her on the matter. He demands she apologize for insulting his religious views. Ms. Pierce becomes defensive, and he storms out of the classroom.
Ms. Pierce is then visited by Gene Dinkel, played by Malcolm Rodgers, the former postmaster and Micah’s guardian, who maintains his own brand of fundamentalism and attempts to broker peace between Micah and his science teacher. No side relents, and events escalate until an ape-masked effigy is set afire on Ms. Pierce’s lawn.
In the end, nobody is willing to compromise, and Ms. Pierce leaves her position.
Though a bit stiff in places, the performance was satisfying. Under the direction of Leah S. Abrams, the actors interacted believably, and Ms. Trieschmann’s dialogue rang true. What I didn’t like about Ms. Trieschmann’s play is that it hit too close to home. The circular arguments, the thinly-veiled incredulity, and the sugar-coated platitudes of Ms. Pierce’s attackers seemed too familiar. I found myself squirming in my seat, fighting the urge to yell out warnings to the naive science teacher, or advice to the young student whose struggles were painfully familiar.
I maintain that evolution and religious beliefs on creation are incompatible, but while the views on the subject might occupy disparate domains, those who hold them do not. Ms. Trieschmann’s play does not attempt to convert one side to the other, but it does present an image of how intolerance does not serve either side.
How the World Began was presented by The Custom Made Theatre Company at The Gough Street Playhouse
1620 Gough St (at Bush)
San Francisco, CA 94109