The "Intelligent Design" debate, wherein hardline Christians in the American Midwest have attempted to have creationist views taught as science in schools, has been a hot issue for discussion in recent years but not one I've seen dramatised much. Near the end of her new play How The World Began Catherine Trieschmann inadvertently hits on why this hasn't been particularly fertile dramatic ground: Where one side of a discussion rests entirely on faith, it's as much of a dead end for drama as it is for genuinely even-handed debate. So the issue isn't really touched on and instead the play consists almost entirely of passive-aggressive confrontations.
Susan (Anna Francolini) is a newly-qualified high school Biology teacher from New York whose probationary period is to be served in a small Kansas town recently ravaged by a tornado. On her first day she makes a wisecrack about "other gobbledygook" theories which her students correctly identify as a dig at their religion, despite her feeble protestations to the contrary. One boy in particular, the orphaned Micah (Perry Millward) won't let the matter rest until she apologises publicly, and matters get out of hand. There's many hints of interesting directions the play could have taken, like the idea of how a deeply religious child raised on fire and brimstone would react to a natural disaster befalling his home town, but none of them are explored. Instead Micah and his unofficial guardian Gene (Ciaran McIntyre,) representing a slightly more level-headed local view, spend most of the running time politely taking offence and getting Susan to dig herself into ever deeper holes. Trieschmann makes sure not to portray the Christians as stupid hicks, it's a shame she doesn't do the same with the atheist: From the initial inflammatory comment she claims not to remember making (in a place where, it transpires, she was aware of a previous failed attempt to get Creationism onto the Science syllabus so should have known precisely what kind of environment she was teaching in) to every verbal trap she repeatedly steps into, the character is irritatingly moronic. There's no suggestion that there's anything deliberate about her challenging the kids' faith, so I started to wonder if making the character pregnant was an attempt to blame her verbal diarrhoea on hormones. The piece goes around in circles with very rare changes in tone (a character raising their voice for the first time after 55 minutes was remarkable enough for me to note it) and there's not much the cast or director Des Kennedy can do to stop this being a tedious 100 minutes that goes around in circles with none of the characters having developed by the end of it.
How The World Began by Catherine Trieschmann is booking until the 10th of December at Arcola Studio 2.