|The Multiverse of Underground Railway Theatre's "Mr g"|
Underground Railway Theatre's current production, “Mr.g”, is based on the 2012 novel by MIT physicist Alan Lightman (author of “Einstein's Dreams”), “Mr. g, a Novel About the Creation”, a philosophical fable about responsibility and loss. Consider how the work begins, as narrated by the titular divinity: “As I remember, I had just woken up from a nap when I decided to create the universe.” As adapted by playwright Wesley Savick (who also directs this production, and who staged the company's 2006 production of “Einstein's Dreams”), this is a cerebral effort indeed, as is usually the case when this company couples with MIT in their Catalyst Collaborative. The book was a whimsical, wry and witty take on the “multiverse” (so au courant in such works as the film “Interstellar” and the recent play “Constellations”). The play thus concerns the role of Mr. g (Jordan Ahnquist), who first creates time, space, matter, and a few basic laws of physics, which in turn give birth to stars and planets. Problems arise with the creation of intelligent life: the Creator's plans go awry when a Neighbor Girl (Melissa Jesser) questions the nature of free will as we experience the birth and fate of Mr. g's favorite universe: ours. There are also ethical questions “at the border of science and theology”. Literally, attention must be paid to such a plan.
Or so it seemed at first until the play lost track of its source material, about a half hour into the plot, when it became clear that the playwright had eliminated the novel's crucial antagonist, Belhor aka Belial, Baalial and Beliar, who is a demon figure in both the Christian and Hebrew apocrypha. As the intellectual equal to Mr. g, Belhor delights in provoking him, demands an explanation for the inexplicable, requests that the newly created intelligent creatures not be subject to rational laws, and argues for the necessity of evil. Then there is Baphomet, a twelfth-century pagan deity in Christian folklore who reappears in the nineteenth century as a Satan-like figure. The problem of evil in this play is replaced by that of suffering, which is not at all the same thing. The play's story evolves (so to speak) to include interactions with Aunt Penelope (Obehi Janice) and Uncle Deva (Vincent Ernest Siders), whose name is Sanskrit for “deity”. Complications may be seen in the Creator's comments: “sometimes the absence of a thing is not noticed until it is present”; “I had unintentionally invented time”; and “I had created music, but then music created feelings that weren't there before”. In the original book, Mr. g also acknowledges the various voices from past civilizations that dreamed of immortality, from the Buddha (“a wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering”) to the Qur'an (“We have built the heaven with might, and We it is who make the vast extent”) to the Bhagavad Gita (“the senses are higher than the body; the mind higher than the senses; above the mind is the intellect; and above the intellect is the Self”) and the New Testament (Second Corinthians): “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (shades of “The Little Prince”!). All this is mostly missing from this adaptation. Also missing are ethical questions: about stealing or starving, the wrongfulness of an act committed (or not) at a mother's command. Some points of light remain: about religions, “I wanted them to have awareness of Me”. What becomes curiouser and curiouser is what happened to all the whimsy.
All the technical teamwork is fine, as is that of the four extraordinarily hard-working actors. They try very hard to respond to the directors' style: if one grimace or hand flutter will do, why not three? If one strange sound is called for once, why not again? All this (excellently executed) thespian excess makes one think that Mr. g hath created scenery that it might be chewed upon. It begins to feel like an extended sketch from “Saturday Night Live”, more comic than cosmic. What could have been a gas becomes a noble effort, but is at its core inert.