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A CurtainUp Review
How the World Began


Now I don’t want to start rumors or get anybody in trouble. I talked to several of your students about the incident, and they all came away from it feeling that you had disrespected their beliefs.— Gene
How the World Began Heidi Schreck and Justin Kruger

(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
Every election year it seems to become more evident that there may be two Americas: red states and blue states, fundamentalists and free thinkers, big city dwellers and small town folk. In Catherine Treischmann’s new play, How the World Began those two worlds collide, with interesting results.

Daniella Topol deftly directs this Women’s Project premiere, making the most of an excellent cast. Heidi Schreck (Circle Mirror Transformation) is Susan Pierce, an unwed, pregnant science teacher who comes to a small town not long after it has been devastated by a tornado. Justin Kruger is Micah Staab, her disturbed and God-fearing student. And Broadway veteran Adam LeFevre is Gene Dinkel, an unemployed, easygoing do-gooder who became Micah’s unofficial guardian after his stepfather was killed in the tornado.

The central conflict revolves around its title, how the world began. According to Susan, the phenomenon can be explained by science and all other explanations are “gobbledy gook,” a word that becomes a battle cry for Micah, who subscribes to the biblical explanation. Gene tries to mediate between the two, but is unsuccessful because of local interference and Micah’s stubborn insistence that Susan “apologize.”

Despite Schreck’s totally convincing acting, the problem with the play is that it’s hard to believe even a somewhat inexperienced teacher from Brooklyn would not be more prepared for the culture she meets in Plainview, Kansas — that she would continue to engage in a losing battle and that she would not recognize in Micah what is abundantly obvious to any thinking person in the audience. Micah is a troubled young man, and his intense need for his teacher to publicly apologize is mostly a matter of fear and guilt. He certainly will not benefit by a match of wits with his teacher, something his kindhearted guardian tries to impart several times.

If Trieschmann had delved a bit more into Susan’s personality and history (we know she is fleeing something - but what?) we might better understand her reactions and we might have been more emotionally involved in the play. As written and performed, How the World Began suffers from its insistence on ideas over people.

With that said, it should be vigorously noted that the most surprising and pleasing aspect of this play is the way Trieschmann has made all her characters sympathetic. There are no good guys or bad guys in this play. Trieschmann understands that at the end of the day, we are all just happy to have tried our best, dealt with our problems and made it to the end of the day, an idea we sometimes wish our politicians would countenance.

The most likable character is probably Gene, created with genuine bonhomie by the excellent LeFevre. Even Micah, the cause of all the discord, seems more worthy of our compassion than contempt. Kruger, in his New York debut, makes up for his lack of experience with an admirable sincerity.

How the World Began is not a perfect play. But it does present some very relevant questions in a compelling fashion. You can expect to remain wide awake and engaged until its satisfying if somewhat confusing ending.

How the World Began
Written By Catherine Trieschmann
Directed by Daniella Topol
Cast: Justin Kruger (Micah Staab), Adam LeFevre (Gene Dinkel), Heidi Schreck (Susan Pierce)
Set & Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Brian H. Scott
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Production Stage Manager: Jack Gianino
Running Time: 95 minutes
Women's Project, in association with South Coast Repertory production
Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street
From 12.28/11; closing 1/29/12
Tuesday - Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm & 7:30pm
Tickets: $60 (212) 279-4200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 4, 2011
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