The rough setting of the Arcola studio space meshes perfectly with the makeshift science classroom, standing as it is in the imagined rubble of a rural Kansas town destroyed by – what else? – a hurricane. Here, troubled teen Micah and loose-tongued science teacher Susan revive age-old theological arguments against a backdrop of science posters and cattle stench.
What’s somewhat unfortunate about said theological debate underpinning How The World Began is not only the typical stereotypes – religious country hick v. enlightened East Coast science teacher – but the easy out given to the audience. Micah is an incredibly disturbed and shaken teenager; in the aftermath of a hurricane he’s lost a mother, a step-dad and quite a bit of his sanity.
The fact of which throws the plight of Anna Francolini’s earnest but unwitting teacher caught in Micah’s crossfire into sharp relief, but ultimately renders any of his arguments null and void. He’s not only religious, he’s crazy, and his meddling uncle Gene (solidly played by Ciaran McIntrye) just as blinkered as the rest of the typically small town. A serious case for the friction of science and religion it suddenly is not.
That said, while the theological arguments often fail to engage, the more earthly characters, the hinting script and the strong cast have much going for them and manage to revive what could have been a turgid, static-set show. There is a thrumming undercurrent of menace to How The World Began, and Catherine Trieschmann’s constant hints at activity outside the classroom are an unfortunately necessary device to keep interest in the play outside of intellectual debate.
While the play attempts to resolve an age-old argument for you by intentionally not resolving it, and while the character of Micah can grate after a few scenes, Francolini’s Long Island-esque accent alone helps to make it a worthwhile watch. That said, How The World Began is a thought-worm of a play, burying itself in the cerebral cortex to be mulled over hours after the applause has stopped and well worth a look.