PROVO — In The Plan, a new play written and directed by Eric Samuelsen, we are taken on a journey into the lives of real people of the Old Testament and explore what it means to be a human. The Plan takes six stories of couples from the Old Testament and interweaves the biblical version with a little GAS: Gospel According to Samuelson, which gives us the rest of the story. We get to see the couples as human beings with questions, concerns and choices to be made or contemplating choices they have made.
Samuelsen tells the stories by exploring the concepts of pre-earth life, predestined paths, and each of the roles we play in this life, which in turn lets us examine how the characters feel about those choices. Samuelsen does this quite effectively, mostly by interweaving culture and Old Testament womanhood with modern clothing and modern language. The play is full of drama, pathos, comedy, and the tragedies communicating the truth of this frail existence.
In the story “Gaia” the characters are Gaia (Julie Webb) and Lucifer (Travis Hyer). Lucifer is contemplates the role of predator and prey and the importance of the creatures fulfilling the measure of their creation. An interesting direction to take, having Lucifer being sympathetic to the destruction of the dinosaurs. He explains his point of view and how it differs from Father’s plan and how he would choose to be a shark, a predator acting on instinct. Gaia knocks him down with compassion and truth. I personally don’t like empathizing with the father of lies and would have rather seen the conversation between Michael (pre-earth Adam in LDS theology) and Gaia, perhaps discussing the choices that Lucifer makes and their point of view. That being said, the dialogue is interesting and the performances were good.
“Bathsheba” tells the story of Bathsheba (Dianna Graham) and David (Patrick Kintz) after the death of Uriah. Opening with a melodic tune on the guitar, David is playing for Bathshea. Their relationship has its unique problems such as what to do with Bathsheba now that she is pregnant and her husband is dead. To cover up the pregnancy, David had Uriah come home briefly during a military conflict before sending him back into certain death in battle. But the plan didn’t work because Uriah slept outside his bedroom door. David contemplates his choices, which he says may damn him. Bathsheba was in a unique place. When the king sent for her, her fate was sealed. She was damned if she didn’t and damned if she did. Their love affair is the stuff soap operas are made of. Graham’s performance was my favorite of the night. The way she portrayed Bathsheba was honest and I believed her story. Samuelsen’s writing is witty and colorful and heartbreaking. I especially liked the part where Bathsheba explains why she was bathing on the balcony and how beautiful the night was.
In “Ruth in the House of Boaz” we explore the thoughts of Ruth (Emily Foster) and Boaz (Peter Layland). Each takes turn ruminating on their predicament. Their culture is the driving influence that motivates their choices in their relationship. This is the story that we have the most GAS in. But with that GAS the story is driven into a lighthearted—and I dare say—sweet love affair.
“Rachel’s Sister” was the story I wanted to hear the most. The story of Jacob (Patrick Kintz) working for seven years to marry beautiful Rachel only to be deceived and marry her sister Leah (Andrea Hepfinger). Here is where Samuelsen’s brilliant writing shines as it delves into the nature of what it means to be human and the feelings associated with love, romance, duty and devotion to ones God. This vignette received the most laughs from the audience, probably because as the audience, we were in on the “joke” being played on Jacob.
“Outside Jericho” felt like the longest story, as it poignantly touched on the consequences of war in God’s name. Justifying killing or lying is alright as long as it is in the name of God. I understood the message but felt it was a little overworked. The acting was good especially on the part of Ashley Jean Bonner who played Rahab with emotion and passion. Joshua (Travis Hyer) had the unwavering faith in God, which was motivation enough to drive his character. A question was raised and answered what is harder than dying for your religion? Living for it? No, killing for it. A somber subject which segued easily to the final story.
“Eve, Dying” shows Eve (Julie Webb) and Adam (Bradford Garrison) in the final moments of Eve’s life. She has no regrets. Adam raises questions about if it was the right thing to do to partake of the fruit. Their responses may surprise you. Eve says she aches for Adam, which made me think the word “aches.” It is a powerful word that only someone who has loved deeply or felt pain could understand; a great choice in language. I’m also impressed by Samuelsen’s line that shows Adam and Eve’s reaction to life outside the garden: “Better than what we had and worse than we ever imagined.” However, I was disappointed in the character of Adam. Although Garrison’s performance was fine, I expected Adam to be tall, strong and humble. Whether it was the choice of dialogue for him or physical smallness of the actor, I didn’t get that strength from this story.
Samuelsen declares he is a feminist. His strong female characters are a testament to this. However, strong women do not necessarily mean weak men. Nor does Samuelsen’s feminism translate into men who are bullies or the bad guys to blame for all the evils in the world. (This is what my husband likes to call “The Lifetime Network view of men.”) The woman of The Plan are bold and articulate. Although the script has an LDS outlook, this show is not your fun-loving, break-into-song Saturday’s Warrior. But it does lead you to want to blow the dust off the Old Testament and study the stories again. Are these stories important? Do you want to be a better person for watching them? Do you understand them? Do you empathize? Do you want to empathize?
As for the GAS in the show, Samuelson says he takes full responsibility for these dramatic privileges and as a playwright isn’t that what we want him to do? Doesn’t it make us better people when we contemplate the human condition and then want to do something about it? That is just what The Plan did for me.