Wednesday, December 29, 2010
God a Subject in Two Current Plays
By Skip Sheffield
Two plays opened this weekend in West Palm Beach. Coincidentally, both of them debate the existence of God. Even stranger, both are largely comic, but with inescapable philosophical implications.
“Goldie, Max & Milk” is the funnier production, presented at Kravis Center for a long run though Jan. 16.
A woman, Karen Hartman, wrote “Goldie, Max & Milk.” Another woman, Margaret M. Ledford, directs the show, which has four female characters and just one male.
It is interesting and amusing to note the character of Mike (David Hemphill) though played breezily for laughs, is essential to the premise of the play (and to the existence of all men). Mike is sperm donor to the lesbian, atheist single-mom Maxine (Erin Joy Schmidt), whose lover Lisa (Carla Harting) has left her after convincing Max to become a mother. Oh, and by the way Mike, a free-wheeling dope dealer, is Lisa’s ne’er-do well-younger brother.
Max is poor, afraid and insecure in her crummy Brooklyn apartment, and perhaps because of this she is having trouble lactating; producing the mother’s milk essential to the good health of her infant. She doesn’t believe in God, but as an optimist she allows there could be something called the soul.
In desperation Max calls a social worker named Goldie (Deborah l. Sherman), who is an Orthodox Jew and a “lactation coach” for nursing mothers.
Who knew there was such a thing?
I certainly did not, but the device allows for a comedic clash of cultures and beliefs as “New-Agey,” anti-organized-religion Max is forced to cope with a woman whose views are so set and so diametrically opposed to her own.
But wait, there’s more to test Goldie’s mettle. Her eldest daughter Shayna (Sarah Lord) is what you could delicately call “bi-curious,” and she is fascinated by mom’s newest client.
Sex is a funny thing, and playwright Hartman milks the subject (pardon the pun) for maximum effect. On the other hand there is real pain in the characters of down, out, but not defeated Max; loving, nurturing but rigid Goldie, and her uncertain, vulnerable daughter Shayna, who is enduring a painful sexual identity crisis of her own.
At times “Goldie, Max & Milk” is like a TV sitcom, with fast-flung bon mots and quick comebacks, but then it hits back with doses of real emotion. This is not a comedy for everyone, but for people who want to explore and appreciate the greater value of true “family values,” it is reassuring to know we still can laugh.
Tickets are $47 and $50. Call 800-514-3837 or visit www.floridastage.org.
Freud and C.S. Lewis Debate God’s Existence
“Freud’s Last Session” is a paradoxical comedy by Mark St. Germain, playing through Feb. 6 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan St., West Palm Beach.
The play is paradoxical because it is not really a comedy at all but an extended debate between two intellectuals representing opposing spectrums of human faith, values and belief.
Dr. Sigmund Freud (Dennis Creaghan, uncannily resembling the famed thinker) was the father of modern psychoanalysis and a staunch atheist.
C.S. Lewis was a novelist and allegorist whose works such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” are being read and re-interpreted to this day. Lewis was probably England’s most ardent defender of the Christian faith, which he declared publicly in his apologia “The Pilgrim’s Regress” in 1933.
Playwright St. Germain finds a kinship in these divergent characters through their intellectual brilliance, their restless quest for knowledge, their courage to face and challenge any opponent, and not the least of all, their ready, self-deprecating wit.
The play is set in London at the crucial point in the year 1939 When King George VI is about to make his famous Sept. 3 speech regretfully announcing England’s declaration of war against Germany and its allies.
Freud has summoned the younger professor and writer to his study for an unspecified reason. There is a lot going on at the time. London is evacuating, planes are flying overhead, and air raid sirens are being tested.
As a result Lewis is late, allowing Freud some good-natured scolding. This sets the combative tone of their meeting. Freud has read “Pilgrim’s Regress,” and he wants to know why a highly-intelligent, otherwise rational man can suddenly express a belief in a man who died 2,000 years ago claiming to be the Son of God and the savior of all who would believe in him.
Freud is desperately ill with oral cancer, and only too well-aware of his own mortality, which gives an added edge to the question of where one spends eternity after this physical life is over.
Having been raised in a religious home (I am a preacher’s grandkid), I have heard these debates a thousand times. Rarely have I heard the opposing points of view expressed so eloquently and cleverly.
I think the point of the playwright is that dialogue is essential if opposing factions are ever to live together in peace. This play is performed quickly in less than 90 minutes, without intermission. In that brief interlude it leaves one with the feeling maybe there is hope for communication regardless of poles of belief as long as individuals respect a worthy opponent.
Tickets are $47. Parking is just $1 an hour at the nearby City Center Garage (first hour free) and it is free on Sunday. Call 561-514-4042 or visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.