9th Hour Theatre celebrates Arthur Miller’s 100th birthday with an adaptation of one of his more obscure scripts. In this play within a play, a traveling circus presents the story of the birth of humanity. Is it the greatest show on Earth, as it claims to be?
The Creation of the World and Other Business is an exploration of the birth of humanity in three acts. In the first, Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden of Eden. In the second, Eve finds herself tempted by Lucifer while pregnant with the first man. Finally, God and Lucifer’s conflict reaches a point of no return, culminating in the murder of Abel by his brother Cain.
9th Hour Theatre puts Miller’s religious parable in the context of a circus show. If you’re expecting a Cirque Du Soleil vibe, you may be disappointed. This production is more worth seeing for the theological discussion it might inspire than for the circus aspect. I can see how the combination of storytelling and circus arts could have worked. However, at times it feels like an excuse to have the actors switch characters, dress them in costumes not really reminiscent of the original story and to incorporate more physicality into what can be a dense script.
From the moment the performers step onstage, the musical interludes are almost funereal in tone, which contrasts with Miller’s often comic script. The make-up, costumes and set are all slightly unsettling, and I’m still not really sure how that fits with the story. Many of the scenes do have a nice physicality, but nothing I would consider circus-like. There’s a lack of commitment to the setting; I would have liked to see either a more straightforward interpretation or for 9th Hour to have gone full-steam-ahead with circus bombast.
What really did throw me off was all the performers switching characters after intermission. While there is a tonal difference between the three acts that make them feel almost like separate shows, it was jarring to see the same characters played by different people after spending an hour and a half with one interpretation.
This is to the detriment of the performers, who all did quite well with the material. For example, Robin Guy was wonderful as the innocent but inquisitive Eve, but couldn’t match up to Johnny Eaton’s first act performance of Lucifer when they switched. She did a capable job, but Eaton had so energetically embodied Lucifer’s ambition and unorthodox thinking that I couldn’t get used to a new interpretation. It’s a shame because Guy has an easy chemistry with her Adam, Benoît Trudel, making them the highlight of a first act that could do with some abridging.
The script itself is occasionally long-winded but captivated me with its reinterpretation of the events of The Bible. It also has some nice moments of humor, especially in the first act. After the intermission is when the action ramps up and the drama is given a chance to shine. At 150 minutes not including the intermission, however, this is a lengthy show.
The Creation of the World and Other Business is an ambitious production that could have done with more involvement from artists with circus experience. It’s still a thought-provoking show that will please those who have an interest in religious interpretation and the relation of good and evil.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d like to hear what you think. What did you think of the circus theme? Which act did you prefer? Join the discussion in the comments below!
The Creation of the World and Other Business runs at the Great Canadian Theatre Company’s Studio Theatre until August 8th