November 10, 2009
AJU’s Noah’s ark story, starring Jason Alexander, a pleasant surprise
On November 1, I saw “Two by Two” at the American Jewish University, a staging of the Noah’s Ark story, starring Jason Alexander as Noah. Okay, to be honest, even though I’m like a huge “Seinfeld” fan and think Jason Alexander is a lot more versatile than people give him credit for being, I wasn’t expecting much. We’re talking about the Noah’s Ark story here.
But this was a pretty different version of the Noah story I was familiar with anyway. The story I know, even though it’s in the Torah and everything, straight out of Genesis, is actually pretty simple: God decides man is evil and says He will flood the Earth to start over. But Noah’s a pretty good person, so God tells Noah he will spare him, instructs him to build an ark, to bring his family on-board, as well as two of every non-human creature. Noah does, and, sure enough, the flood comes. Noah and his family are safe on the ark. Afterwards, God makes a covenant with Noah that He will never destroy the Earth again. And that’s about it. Yes there are a few others things that happen in- between, like a dove going on a mission to find some land, but that is basically the gist. Unless you’re like the Rambam or Rashi and are able to extrapolate really deep insights and write crazy-long commentary from not a whole lot, the Noah’s Ark story is no “Infinite Jest.” In fact, I remember being told at one point during my Jewish upbringing that the Noah story is more a less a Midrash for why we have rainbows.
So, complicated it is not.
BUT the version that Richard Rodgers wrote the music for, a 1970 Broadway production that the Reprise Theater Company recently adapted into a smart, humorous and thought-provoking staged-reading/musical hybrid as part of their month-long celebration of Rodgers—who is most famous for “The Sound of Music, something he did as a collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein—the new version, which incorporates some contemporary flourishes and has the characters speaking like we do despite being hundreds of years old and living in Biblical times, this version really goes for it, raising really significant questions about blind faith and all the while depicting a family that is just as dysfunctional as, well, your own. Noah is a kook and a bit of a drunk and he has a hard time bonding with his grown-up sons, who have their own relationship problems and don’t even believe Noah when he tells them that he talked to God and that God said a flood is coming. Throughout the play, Noah and his children clash and Noah’s wife has to play the role of peacekeeper. Her character is actually a role model for real-life married moms today who don’t know how to be a good wife and mother at the same time.
The tragedy is that “Two by Two” was only scheduled for a two-night run and most people will never have a chance to see it. I have no inclination as to why Reprise decided to do it this way. Perhaps they figured there wasn’t much of an audience for the staging of a Noah’s Ark story that doesn’t even have an actual ark in it. I mean, like I said, I wasn’t all that amped on seeing it.
But it was good—like, really good—and, I don’t know, I think that whoever is reading this should start a petition or something and demand additional shows. Or don’t, I don’t care. I already got to see it.