Sympathy for the devil

Players’ Theatre recreates the creation story

In her director’s note, Kristen Kephalas calls Arthur Miller’s The Creation of the World and Other Business “one of the worst comedies I’ve ever read.” A retelling of the Book of Genesis, this not-so funny comedy explores the biblical story in a new light. It begins with the creation of Eve, and ends just after Cain’s murder of Abel, attempting to find the humour in humanity’s loss of innocence. Under Kephalas’ direction, the Players’ Theatre production leans away from Miller’s awkward attempt at humour and instead plunges the audience into darker themes — questioning the righteousness of God and reconsidering Lucifer.

The play opens with God and Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam (Alec MacMillan) is adorably naïve and utterly devoted. God (Frederic Rosenthal) creates a mate for Adam, whom Adam names Eve (Anna Queen). While they play together down in the Garden, the true conflict sets in with the introduction of Lucifer (Lucas Amato), who challenges God by advocating for Adam and Eve to find knowledge. The familiar struggle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ results in Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden, as well as the birth of their two sons, Cain (Clay Walsh) and Abel (Adam Almeida).

“Once the characters leave Eden, it’s almost like Arthur Miller left Eden and wasn’t able to find the comedy again.”

Thematic dichotomies run through the play with clear oppositions between Adam and Eve, God and Lucifer, and Cain and Abel. “The go-to one is good versus evil, because God is questionable in his morals,” Kephalas explains in an interview with The Daily. “But the other one that stuck out to me is this idea of blame and responsibility, because the characters are all really, really bad at taking responsibility for things.”

The narrative questions who holds the responsibility for humanity’s loss of innocence. While the play has a few light-hearted scenes that poke fun at the traditional story, like Adam naming the animals based solely on his favourite letter of the day or Eve being unable to make sense of her pregnant body, the light-hearted tone disappears as soon as Adam and Eve are expelled. Kephalas explains that “once the characters leave Eden, it’s almost like Arthur Miller left Eden and wasn’t able to find the comedy again.” Kephalas, too, dumps the comedy for tragedy. The transition culminates in a jolting scene as Eve goes into labour, her painful screams grabbing and shaking the audience.

The loss of innocence turns into a family drama as the characters attempt to remain pious despite their misdeeds. While Lucifer tries to expose God as deceitful, Cain’s growing anger toward his brother Abel makes the audience feel a nervous anticipation at their every interaction. When the dreaded murder comes, it’s vivid and heartbreaking. Walsh delivers a moving performance. The genuine disbelief and sorrow in his realization after the murder is as shocking as the intensity of his anger during the crime. As the play approaches its end, his acting evokes sympathy for the most violent character. The finale features Angels singing Hallelujah, bringing the play to a powerful close. Their psalms, which they repeat throughout the play, ironically singing God’s praises even during times of doubt, leave the audience to take it all in on an eerie note of disenchantment.

For the most part, the actors mostly find their way around the intricacies of this dark comedy, moving fluidly from the lightheartedness of the initial acts to the intensity of the later scenes. However, a few scenes are not executed as seamlessly. Adam and Eve struggle in their chemistry, and their discomfort in intimate scenes disrupts the believability of their romance. Similarly, the depiction of God as an arrogant control freak never reaches its full height in commanding the stage. While believable, Rosenthal doesn’t fully realize the the character’s grandeur.

Still, it’s possible that this underwhelming acting actually matches the play’s direction, as it challenges conventional understanding of the characters: in fact, it’s Amato’s performance as Lucifer that steals the show, with Amato commanding every scene he’s in. His portrayal of the crazed and creepy Angel-Demon is undeniably captivating, featuring an over-the-top devotion to God and bursts of fury toward the humans that breathe life into the play. Even when he’s lurking wordlessly in the background, Lucifer’s plotting smirks enhance each scene with a sense of dread as he slinks around the characters.

Allowing us to delight in the devil, The Creation of the World and Other Business brings an old story into new and fresh perspective. The Players’ production artfully and painfully brings to light the faults of each character, casting a sympathetic light on even their most sinful moments. Kephalas throws the spotlight on Miller’s darker scenes, transforming the awkward comedy into a gripping tragedy that invites viewers to question their conceptions of good, evil, and guilt.

The Creation of The World and Other Business runs from January 21 to January 24 and from January 28 to January 31. The show starts at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $6 for students and seniors and $10 for adults.