Escaping personal issues in New York to come teach high school science in a small, tornado-devastated Kansas town, a pregnant, husbandless Susan comes hoping to renew her life and to help this traumatized community. A flippant remark to a class of sophomores, describing theories of “spontaneous creation of the earth” as “gobbledygook,” sets off a new storm in this town. The winds, both literal and figurative, increase as the play progresses due largely to the intense affront felt by Micah, a very intense, very conservatively religious, 16-year-old in her class who demands in his nervous but persistent way an apology for the quote he very carefully documents in his notebook. As Susan first denies and then later tries to downplay her remark, Micah escalates his angry demands, wanting more and more public displays of contrition. Attempting to intervene is his congenial, unofficial guardian, Gene, who enters with a lemon-meringue pie, and who alternates offering neighborly nice chitchat and advice with not-too-subtle veiled threats of possible consequences to her job if she does not appease Micah and the incensed town.
Ms. Trieshmann’s play certainly resonates today within our often-polarized society where ‘science’ and ‘religion’ are not always kept separate in the classroom in some communities. However, what makes this production a real winner are the performances of the three principals as well as Leah Abrams’ tight, well-paced direction.
Mary McGloin’s Susan is critical to making this play believable. If she is too dismissive, too callous, or too self-righteous, this play becomes a fairly shallow treatment of a rather complex topic. Instead, Ms. McGloin masterfully balances being stubborn in her and the science curriculum’s right to say what she has said with her genuine, patient (for a while, at least) attempts to understand Micah’s concerns and the firestorm that she has evidently lit within the community. When she wakes to find a burning gorilla on a cross in her yard, Ms. McGloin’s reactions are visceral, human, and believable. A later, climatic explosion of emotions and words are a bit over-the-top in the way played and directed; but for a person who is five months pregnant, facing alone an attack in a hostile, still-foreign-to-her environment, the extreme reaction we see is probably exactly the correct way to play the part.
Malcolm Rodgers as the folksy, go-between, retired guardian Gene also is also very believable in his portrayal. He is likable by us as audience even as we often suspect his motives. Who is really trying to help in this intervention? Whose reputation is he most trying to save? Mr. Rodgers keeps us guessing what is really going on inside him while also wanting to believe that his motives are genuine as he too is conflicted how to react to this teacher, to Micah, and to his ultra-conservative town.
The real star of this production is Tim Garcia. From the moment he slouches into the classroom, he commands the stage and our attention. His nervous twitches, taut face with never a smile on it, amazingly stressed hand movements, eyes one moment averting others and the next directly confronting with no fear, and his constant movement around the room in the way teenage boys can never be still: In these and so many other ways Mr. Garcia shows all signs of being a mature actor beyond his young age. We as audience are both repulsed by his increasingly revengeful-sounding demands while at the same time are ready to step in and hug and comfort this kid who is evidently so traumatized and fearful from events that have transpired in his life long before this ‘gobbledygook’ remark.
In the end, the performances of these three actors make Custom Made’s Bay Area introduction of Ms. Treischmann’s play an evening of intense, must-see theatre.
Rating: 5 E