THE GOOD BOOK is brilliant at Berkeley Rep

center) Annette O’Toole (Miriam); (l to r) Denmo Ibrahim (Woman 1), Wayne Wilcox (Man 2), Elijah Alexander (Man 3), and Shannon Tyo (Woman 2) in Berkeley Rep’s production of The Good Book directed by Lisa Peterson. Photo courtesy of Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

THE GOOD BOOK by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson. Directed by Lisa Peterson.  Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. 510-647-2949.or . 

May 2 –June 25, 2019

THE GOOD BOOK is brilliant at Berkeley Rep Rating: ★★★★★

Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson are to be admired for their chutzpah to undertake a play outlining the history of the Bible and its personal effects on two diverse individuals with differing views on its meaning by exploring the origins of the text. The text of the Bible is still being revised and I have it on good authority that the authors were still revising this play up to opening night. Like the Bible it is the type of play construction that lends itself to revision since it is a series of events although mostly chronological that can stand alone.

Just as a lesson taught with humor is a remembered lesson, the authors dovetailed didactic history with humor, created characters that have a personal touch with the Bible and brought to life semi-factual “historical” vignettes never allowing the audience attention to stray. It all begins with Miriam (Annette O’Toole) an atheist and Biblical scholar lecturing to class with the simple “Where do we begin?”

She begins at the beginning with five other actors to play all the roles too numerous to recount with some more cogent than others starting with oral history by shepherds being passed on by generations. Later when it became written history diverse ethnicity of the generations led to diverse translations suggesting it is not the word of God.

Brilliantly intertwined with the didactic history are the personal stories of two diverse characters with different beliefs that eventually lead to self-discovery. They do not meet until the beautiful final scene that brought the audience to their feet for a thunderous ovation. The stories of these two characters are interspersed between the historical vignettes amplifying one’s personal relation to the Good Book.  Atheist Miriam will have her beliefs challenged as will Catholic Connor ( Keith Nobbs) an insecure confused 15 year old boy attempting to come to terms with his sexuality dreaming of becoming a priest.

Miriam is the central core of the play and her storyline includes the various lectures emphasizing the oral history, the retelling in each era and recopying by the monks in secluded chambers that would lead to mistakes with each passage of time. She has her own personal problems including a failing relationship with her live-in Muslim lover (Elijah Alexander) as well as disinterested students and the trials and tribulations of Academia.

Connor’s journey is equally fraught with issues.  It is suggested that his secret recording of biblical texts reflects the oral history of the bible that are/could be flawed. Throughout the play he gradually sinks into depression that leads to psychiatric evaluation. Through it all he never loses his faith in God but does for good reason lose faith in the Catholic Church. His journey gives the authors good reason to emphasize Leviticus 18:22 (New Revised Standard Version). “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Annette O’Toole gives a performance that would certainly win a Tony Award with full range of emotion from confident self-assurance, anger, internal doubt yet not capitulating to the “word of God” with the hesitant simple “No” when she is asked if she wishes to pray. Keith Nobel’s Connor almost matches that of O’Toole with stunning range of emotion and command of the stage in voice and body language. The backup cast, Elijah Alexander, Lance Gardner, Denmo Ibrahim, Shannon Tyo and Wayne Wilcox ar almost unbelievable as they switch to multiple characters including shepherds, priests, monks, King James and more.

Lisa Peterson’s superlative staging fits each scene together like a jigsaw puzzle making sense of the mayhem playing out on every inch of the space. The blank stage (Rachel Hauck) with a non-descript n upright piano upstage left with chairs askew and props carried on and off by the cast represents the blank page on which to “write” the Bible.  Projections and lighting by Alexander V. Nichols are amazing and integral to the time and place of each vignette. He is aided by Mark Bennett’s sound design and music compositions.

The running time of almost three hours including the intermission never lags and reflect of the truth of Alfred North Whitehead’s concept of relative time. Highly recommended.

CAST: Elijah Alexander (Man 3);Lance Gardner (Man 1); Denmo Ibrahim (Woman 1); Keith Nobbs (Connor); Annette O’Toole (Miriam); Shannon Tyo (Woman 2); Wayne Wilcox (Man 2).

CREATIVE TEAM: Lisa Peterson (director); Rachel Hauck (scenic designer), Lydia Tanji (costume designer), Alexander V. Nichols (Lighting/Projection Designer), Mark Bennett (Co-Sound Designer), and Charles Coes (Co-Sound Designer).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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