Atheist, Biblehead journey through ‘The Good Book’
“The Good Book” examines the Bible from two characters’ very different perspectives while taking those characters through difficult journeys of belief.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre is staging the West Coast premiere of this ever-fascinating drama by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson.
One of the main characters is Miriam (Annette O’Toole), an atheist and biblical scholar. She calls the Bible “the most powerful and dangerous book in America today.” To her it isn’t the word of God but a collection of stories created by many people, handed down through the ages and translated from many languages.
The other is Connor (Keith Nobbs), a Catholic who calls himself a Biblehead and who wants to become a priest, at least when he’s a young boy.
He first is seen as an 8-year-old who commits his innermost thoughts to his new tape recorder for posterity. As he enters his teens and 20s, however, he struggles with his faith and his sexual identity.
Miriam must confront some of her ideas when a young journalist, played by Shannon Tyo, wants to write a New Yorker article about her. Going through Miriam’s files, the writer finds her girlhood diary and asks about her mother, who died when Miriam was about 9.
Miriam also must deal with her longtime lover, played by Elijah Alexander, a Middle Easterner whom she seldom sees because he’s an archeologist who goes on months-long digs overseas.
During Act 1, Alexander, Tyo, Lance Gardner, Denmo Ibrahim and Wayne Wilcox appear as a variety of characters like Miriam’s college students, Connor’s family and friends, and both known and unknown historical figures.
As the act ends, Miriam has been in a serious car accident during a snowstorm and Connor is ready to shoot himself.
Act 2 finds Connor about to be released from a mental hospital after his suicide attempt and Miriam in a state of unconsciousness that takes her to important places in her life.
Eventually the two meet, and their fates become known.
This is an epic play that goes far deeper than the principal plot. It’s informative for those who don’t know much about the origin of the Bible and it’s absorbing as Connor and Miriam go through their lives. It’s also quite entertaining because of its many other characters.
Finally, it’s an impressive display of virtuoso acting by everyone, especially O’Toole as Miriam and Nobbs as Connor, thanks to their talent and to the astute direction by co-author Peterson.
The action takes place on a sparsely furnished stage with just a few folding metal chairs and tables, augmented by lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols’ projections; Lydia Tanji’s costumes, many suited to quick changes; and sound by Charles Coes and Mark Bennett. Bennett also wrote the music that’s so effectively used in the play.
Although the play is long, about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, it seems to go by quickly.
“The Good Book” will continue through June 9 in Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley.
For tickets and information, call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.