And now, let’s wrap things up with a rousing musical number.
I love musicals, and as a church-going kid, I’ve had a lifetime of exposure to Stephen Schwartz’ Godspell. So, when I heard that some friends were putting on Children of Eden, I was totally in. Well, after I said that I’d never heard of it and they explained that it was “Godspell for the Old Testament.” Of course, two of my friends were involved, so I’d have gone anyway, but let’s stick with the original theory. More poetic that way.
Years back, I used to perform at a dinner theatre out in Granada Hills. The theatre went out of business a few years ago, but I treasure it in my heart, because it brought a lot of good people into my life. One of them, Deb, was directing the show, and another, Kassandra, was starring in it. After hearing about this, I sent a message to yet another, Ryan. (Easy to do. Ryan and I can be found squaring off in several Words With Friends games on any given day. The chat function gets a fair amount of use.) He and I agreed to meet at a nearby Acapulco’s for dinner and then go on to the show from there.
Traffic was on my side that day, and I got to the Acapulco’s parking lot in under an hour. Ryan and I hadn’t seen each other in person in at least a year, so dinner flew by as we caught each other up on jobs and vacations and families and all the other things too complicated to express in a mid-game chat message. Before we knew it, the time had come to scoot on over, to find our seats before the curtain went up. (Having witnessed the Past-the-hour Processional the day before, I was particularly intent about this.)
I couldn’t remember seeing a musical that I wasn’t at least vaguely familiar with since I saw my very first professional one at sixteen. (On Your Toes. Adorable.) The experience was refreshing. The lively score and Deb’s inventive direction kept the toe tapping and the eye engaged. The show told the story of Adam and Eve and that damned fruit in the first act, and the tale of Noah and his soggy family in the second. Kass shone as an Eve searching for something beyond, and stole the show as Noah’s wife with the eleventh hour number, “Ain’t It Good.” (Easily my favorite moment of the show, though the Snake, portrayed by five folks prancing around the stage roped together, came a close second.)
When I wasn’t busy being impressed by the talents of my friends, I chewed over the story. The whole Adam and Eve episode is not my favorite. The show handled it well, showing Eve as curious, rather than necessarily defiant. I don’t like it that woman is depicted in the story as the bringer of all evil to humankind, but let’s face it, in the hands of patriarchal interpretation, there was no winning here. Had the story been told the other way and Adam picked the apple, Eve would have ended up the person too weak to talk him out of it. If I had to describe it, I’d say that a human ventured into forbidden territory. Man or woman, someone would have done it eventually. It’s part of our nature. Never mind having kids of your own. If you’ve spent ten minutes babysitting, you know that if you tell a kid he can play with everything in the room except this stuffed banana, he will be drawn to that velveteen fruit like an electromagnet.
Why would God set up that kind of trap? Any garden-variety deity must have known the human would fail the test, let alone the omniscient one that I worship. Lots has been written on the subject, and I’m no kind of expert. The show didn’t offer any easy answers either, more a sort of evolution of God as a loving parent who came to accept that his children had to learn from their own failures. I could see it – which parent has ever gotten everything right with their first kid? – but I had kind of hoped that Stephen Schwartz would straighten the whole thing out for me in his lyrics, and that didn’t happen.
The story of Noah and the ark is no more reassuring, really. God looks around at the world proclaimed good just a few chapters back and declares it unredeemable. Everyone on the planet except for Noah and his family must die. Providing Noah with his own private weather channel, God instructs him exactly how to build the ark that will carry his family to safety – after a long, depressing and decidedly damp voyage. Mixed into this act is the story Yonah, a servant girl from the cursed family of Cain. This sparked my curiosity, as I’ve read the Bible in its entirety and wasn’t familiar with the name. Turns out the story is from a Jewish writing that post-dates the rest of the Old Testament, called the Book of Jasher. Yonah is doomed to drown along with the rest of humanity, but one of Noah’s sons sneaks her aboard at the last minute. When disaster looms, Noah and the family consider putting her to death in order to appease God. She wasn’t supposed to be here, so killing her will make God happy, right?
Interesting dilemma, and one our modern society should find familiar. Every time something awful happens, a minister somewhere pops up to inform us this happened because gay people exist/abortions happen/prayer has been removed from schools/someone somewhere had a good time/etc. If we’d only fix (fill in current divisive issue here), floods and earthquakes and fires would stop happening. (Interestingly, policitians and religious leaders cheating on their heterosexual spouses is never named as a cause of all evil. I wonder why that is. I hear the Bible’s pretty firm on the subject, after all.)
Noah decides to err on the side of forgiveness. (Sorry, I should have said: SPOILER ALERT!) Since this family is the only one left, they will have to make their own rules, and Noah opts to believe that God would rather they love the human being in front of them than obey the letter of the law.
This hit home, because it’s where I land with most tragedies that happen in our world. We can only deal with people where they are. Best to leave the judgment to God, and work at loving each other the best we can. I’ve never felt God telling me, “They brought this on themselves! Let them suffer!” No, what I hear is, “Go help my child.” I think information beyond that is given on a need to know basis. God has never felt I needed to know.
As the show closes, we see Noah and his wife at the end of their long lives, going to Heaven and rejoining their creator. Noah and Mama Noah are played by the same actors that portrayed Adam and Eve in the first act. That’s not for lack of capable thespians. No, we see that God created humanity, and no matter what anger and hurt we may have caused, there will be reconciliation. I liked that a lot, because that was my takeaway when reading the Old Testament. Christians talk a great deal about the harsh God of the Old Testament and the forgiving God of the New. When reading the stories in the old Hebrew writings, however, I found a recurring theme: God makes a covenant with the people, God’s people screw up their end of the deal, God gets angry, then God says, “I forgive you. I love you. Let’s start again.” You know, like a good parent does.
I don’t understand all the stories of the Bible, but I get that part. It’s what keeps me coming back.
The cast of Children of Eden worked hard for their fabulous director, and it showed. I congratulated Deb and Kass after the show. Both were already crying about the fact that it would end soon. It is the nature of theatre to get deeply involved in your work and then have to let it go, and if you’ve done your job well, it hurts. The fact that the show made me think and ask questions means they did their jobs well. I hope it didn’t hurt too much. As the show reminded us, however, life has happy moments and sad ones, and we can’t know what will come next. All we can do is love each other, because at the end of the day, the love that God gives us, the love that we share with one another – that’s all there is.
And as Kass belted out at the end of the show, Ain’t it good.
Kimberly didn’t have a recording of Kass singing, so the Stephanie Mills version of “Ain’t It Good” had to suffice. It’s okay. Ms. Mills isn’t bad either.