More benediction than play. More poetry than proselytizing. More inclusive creative process, company to community. In January, Dallas Theater Center’s Kevin Moriarty introduced his new repertory ensemble to Dallas audiences with a “dramatic exploration” of the Bible’s Genesis: 1-10. Some might consider it risky to present a production that is A) drawn directly from religious text, and B) created informally by performance artists in conjunction with community theologians and pastors. Moriarty had a vision for inclusiveness that could expand art’s outreach potential beyond traditional theatre audiences and inspire open, civil discourse. In the Beginning…
The Kalita Humphreys Theater stage was strewn with a layer of earth and sawdust chips flanked by monolithic panels inscribed with Genesis excerpts in Hebrew, inspired by a 15th century manuscript. Spare elements— fanciful trees, a sacrificial carcass on an open fire, a massive drawbridge door for Noah’s ark—lent a tangible reality to the production without pulling focus from the performers dancing, acting out, singing or discussing the text. Fourteen men and women graced the stage as modern-day hosts and period storytellers, Biblical characters, or, when dressed in simple white cotton, feet bare and grounded in earth, as representations of God the Creator. Visually compelling, elegant, respectful, and celebratory.
Believing that the stories’ ideas and insights relate directly to 21st century experience, Moriarty interspersed the production with song — solo expression, some in tone poem counterpoint to action, or unison full ensemble. Songs included Neil Young’s “When God Made Me”, Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” and Thomas A. Dorsey’s “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Ensemble members Liz Mikel, Christina Vela, Cedric Neal and Sean Hennigan dramatically enhanced the thought-provoking performance with outstanding vocal interpretation.
Considering the production from a performer’s perspective, regional award-winning actor Cedric Neal shared these thoughts: “This has been the most challenging, sensitive and, ultimately, rewarding experience…. The fact that we can gather in a theater and peacefully discuss, what to me is a sacred text restores a little of my faith in humankind. I’m so proud to be a part of an acting company full of such creative creations.”
Fourteen community theologians and scholars participated on the Advisory Council, from a wide range of backgrounds and denominational congregations across the metroplex. A different advisory council member attended and participated in the lively Q & A sessions following performances. Discourse was respectful, spirited and inspiring.
Overall, In the Beginning was a moving and dignified production. I wished for a stronger artistic conclusion; it fizzled to an abrupt halt rather than glided to an intentional finish. But that is a small complaint when balanced against the production’s effective translation of written word into potently vital enactment, when balanced against the community goodwill and cultural diplomacy it generated. In addition, it met the company’s financial expectations. “It IS good.”
In the Beginning runs at the Dallas Theater Center January 21 through February 15, 2009.