Theater Review: 'How the World Began' -- 2.5 stars
How the World Began
An agnostic New York liberal probably shouldn't casually tell a classroom full of young devout Christians from the heartland that their religious beliefs are a bunch of "gobbledygook." Even if no harm was intended, consequences are likely to follow.
Catherine Trieschmann's new play "How the World Began," which explores this scenario, resembles an uneasy combination of the classic courtroom drama "Inherit the Wind," in which a biology teacher is put on trial for teaching the theory of evolution, and David Mamet's "Oleanna," where a well-meaning male professor's attempt to reach out to a female student is interpreted as sexual harassment.
Susan (the appealing Heidi Schreck), five months pregnant and having abandoned her boyfriend, takes a job teaching science in a rural Kansas town recently devastated by a tornado. Although she has never taught the subject, she is in immediate need of a job that offers health benefits.
Micah (an intense Justin Kruger) takes Susan's "gobbledygook" comment to heart and comes to see her after class. Although unsuccessfully denying she ever said it, Susan gives a halfhearted defense that leaves Micah unsatisfied, especially after she refuses to formally apologize to him and his classmates.
Micah's gentle guardian Gene (Adam LeFevre) encourages the pair to reconcile their differences. Heck, he even brings Susan a lemon meringue pie. But once word inevitably leaks to the community at large, Susan quickly finds herself the target of violent threats.
Although the 90-minute play is frequently engaging, and director Daniella Topol brings out credible performances from the small cast, it ultimately comes off as underdeveloped and derivative. Trieschmann doesn't offer any arguments you haven't heard before, and the second half of the play is really far-fetched.
It is especially frustrating how Susan and Micah refuse to change or grow emotionally. Susan ultimately chooses her own fate by refusing to budge even a little, while the innocent Micah comes off as equally harsh. Can't we all just get along?
If you go: "How the World Began" plays at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater through Jan. 29. 416 W. 42nd St., 212-279-4200, ticketcentral.com.