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This year would be the 100th birthday of Arthur Miller (world renowned playwright best known for The Crucible and Death of a Salesman). I have to say, it was a daunting task to tackle one of the more obscure works from this intellectual giant, but nevertheless, one worth digging into and full of delightful treasures and challenging ideas. Contrary to what one might think, the appeal of this play was the “other business” rather than “the creation of the world” and all that goes with that.
We decided such a seemingly familiar story needed a fresh approach, which is why we chose to present the play as a play within a play, a troupe of traveling circus performers telling a story, as if they have told the story many times before to audiences, and possibly perhaps each time it changes, and different actors get to play the different parts. The physicality of the show is unparalleled to anything 9th Hour has ever done I would say, and some difficult bits of dialogue and heavy text passages come alive with “other business”, infused with a semblance of pseudo-circus imagery and interspersed with live musical interludes.
The “first family” story of Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel is a difficult one to tell, because both the artists and audience come to it with their religious baggage and their preconceived notions and conclusions as to what the story is about and how relevant or not relevant it is to their life. The characters in this play, including God and Lucifer, I suspect wouldn’t stand up to theological scrutiny by any academics, but are nevertheless wonderfully complex theatrical devices to explore the subject matter this play has to offer. Everyone is in for a surprise as this is not the story they would have learned in Sunday school or Hebrew school. Arthur Miller presents the story turned on its head in a topsy-turvy style, which is why the circus theme seemed even more appropriate. Nothing is quite as it seems in the play and what is right or good comes into question and surprising logic twists sneak up on you before judgement can even be passed. What starts with light hearted humour and buffoonery soon deteriorates into intense drama, questioning, and conflict. I was impressed with how the subject matter and text being written almost five decades ago stands the test of time and is just as relevant to an international audience today, whether the Genesis account is known or not.
This play is a modern parable of humanity, exploring the depths of justice, human motivations and interpretations of the Divine. Miller craftily explores complex ideological, philosophical, and sociological questions to which there still are not complete answers. That is the reason for telling this story, to ask the questions and have the conversation from different perspectives. If everyone wants justice, why do we go on causing further injustice in our pursuit of it? Who is to blame for injustice or the world’s problems? Where does our sense of injustice and need to correct it come from? Where do we get the idea of justice and what are we measuring it by? If God is often presumed in many traditions to be all powerful and ever-loving, why then did he allow for or create the opportunity to do wrong and for injustice to occur? These are just some of the questions I have as I entered the world Arthur Miller created with this fascinating upside down retelling of a familiar story.
9th Hour’s mandate and tradition is to provide opportunities for audiences to participate in discussion with the artists and “expert” guests on some of the subject matter of the theatrical works we present. With this play we have 8 post-show discussions scheduled with some of the performers and a variety of guests, including Rabbi Bulka (580 CFRA radio), Reverend Mark Whittall (St. Alban’s Anglican Church), Imam Mohamad Jebara (Cordova Spiritual Education Center), Alexandra Bender (Masters in Conflict Studies), and Gillian Wallace (PhD in Psychology of Religion). I would encourage you stay for one of these discussions and share your insights and perspectives in conversation with others. It is often a beautiful and sacred experience to openly and respectfully discuss weighty and potentially divisive matters with people of varying beliefs and world views.