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Creationism: 'Gobbledy gook' or fact?

'How the World Began,' a drama written by Catherine Trieschmann and directed by Daniella Topol, confronts a controversial topic. The play debuts at SCR on Friday.

September 29, 2011|By Imran Vittachi
  • Jarrett Sleeper and Sarah Lafferty run through lines during a rehearsal for "How the World Began" at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.
Jarrett Sleeper and Sarah Lafferty run through lines… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Plainview, Kan., exists in Catherine Trieschmann's imagination.

But the playwright is no stranger to the actual fertile flatlands of the Great Plains, the threat of tornadoes that hangs above the American heartland's sky and its charged social issues.

All of this inspired her to pen "How the World Began," a one-act drama set in that fictional town that will make its global debut Friday night at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

For six years, Trieschmann and her husband have lived in the real town of Hays, Kan., halfway between Kansas City and Denver.

"I was inspired by getting at the root as to why people hold onto some of those ideas," the playwright said in a phone interview.

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She was referring to a long-running national debate about whether creationist ideas stemming from the Book of Genesis belong in American school textbooks alongside the teaching of evolutionary theory. The controversy around that discussion forms the plot line's crux.

"How the World Began" comprises four scenes played by a cast of three, whom Trieschmann seems to treat equally as protagonists. The plot unfolds inside a starkly-lit FEMA trailer that houses a high school classroom in Plainview, where a twister has struck, killing 17 in its path.

Susan Pierce, a high school biology teacher played by Sarah Rafferty, is a newcomer to Plainview, as well as a pregnant single woman and fresh transplant from New York City. From that hotbed of liberalism she brings with her a rigid set of pro-evolutionary notions, which clashes with the locals' own religious beliefs.

When Susan makes a remark in her classroom that indirectly dismisses creationist theories as "gobbledy gook," she triggers a conflict with one of her teen-aged students, Micah Staab, played by Jarrett Sleeper.

The drama escalates in her dealings with the character of Gene Dinkel, a local man played by Time Winters. Dinkel comes to the classroom bearing a homemade pie, clearly designed to disarm the teacher and sweeten her into apologizing to Micah and his classmates for uttering the offending remark.

Trieschmann, a believer, said she treats each of the three characters with an equal measure of criticism and compassion.

"I don't believe that [the theory of] intelligent design has a place in the science classroom," Trieschmann said. "I am a Christian who believes in the separation of church and state."

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