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Review: ‘Noah: Apocalypse’ at LiveArtDC

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We will now consider Amanda Quain’s latest play, Noah: Apocalypse, currently playing through September 18 at a bar in Petworth.

The cast of Noah: Apocalypse: Nerissa Sarah Hart, Dan Westbrook, Raven Wilkes, Lizzi Albert, Christian Campbell, Shaq Stewart, Jasmine Jones. Photograph by LiveArtDC.

Now is as good enough a time as any other to find oneself thinking about apocalypses, or even THE Apocalypse. Fires rage on the west coast, hurricanes and floods are decimating the south, politics are something best left for Thanksgiving arguments, but I’ll mention them here in this list of signs and wonders, and we all only recently survived an eclipse – of the solar variety. While it’s true that everything is always ending, it can also be true that everything never ends, too. And that’s where we find our heroes at the start of Quain’s play.

It is one year after Something Devastating Has Happened (brought about, in part, by a group of religious zealots, called The Covenant, which is a good name for a group of zealots) and we’re celebrating this grim anniversary as members of a group of survivors. Our leader is a woman named Noah (a commanding Raven Wilkes). Her wife, Dalia (Lizzi Albert), is a doctor. There’s a troubadour named Ollie (Daniel Westbrook) because it’s the future, and that’s when all troubadours will have their moment, like Thundar, the Barbarian, or Station Eleven. A man named Lee (a wryly funny Christian M.A. Campbell) is the Honesty Function of the group, reminding everyone of their tenuous ties both to their continued existence and to each other. This isn’t a family that has chosen itself at all, but has grudgingly accepted its parameters. Dalia’s sister, Sarah (a muscular and impulsive Nerissa Hall), wields a bow and a rash sense of purpose; she’s all action and movement to Lee’s cynical wariness. Shem (Shaquille Stewart) provides muscle and the group’s id right up until a thoughtful and moving monologue that essentially closes out the first act.

Happy families are all alike, and unhappy Nuclear Fallout Families are… challenging, especially when an outsider (Jasmine Jones, who keeps a good poker face) throws the delicate balance off-kilter. The work Director Clare Shaffer has done with this cast — both in terms of the group’s uneasy camaraderie, always on the brink of dissolving; and, too, in how well the actors navigate the tight space of this intentional venue and the audience — is solid, and shows in performances that feel inhabited more often than recited. Shaffer uses Quain’s script to tell several stories at once: What does it mean to survive? What responsibility do we have to a past that has been destroyed? Are bonds made out of necessity any different than bonds made out of desire?

Quain’s script is rich in questions of this sort — some answered, some not. While left with a lot to chew over on the way home from the theater, audiences might also feel a little exhausted by some of the more pedestrian choices in the script. The aforementioned Covenant, for example, and Harvesters, and a little too much reliance on beats best left to YA stories in mazes or District 12 or that one movie where Julianne Moore is a bureaucrat too efficient at her job. The richest vein to mine in any Noah story — whether it’s Noah: Apocalypse, or Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the Lord — is in the relationships and the responses to guilt, moreso than in the sci-fi trappings. When the waters receded, the Torah’s Noah planted a vineyard and got drunk. When we meet our cast of survivors, they’re well on their way to drunkenness, too. And we’ve all been through life-changing devastations, even if they look pedestrian from the outside. Quain’s play is strongest when it centers the human.

It’s a play that is not without its challenges — to comfort, to attention, to patience — but for the right audience, it is often a revelation of how exciting and electric live theater can be.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 10-minute intermission.

Noah: Apocalypse plays through September 18, 2017, at LiveArtDC performing at DC Reynolds Bar – 3628 Georgia Ave. NW, in Washington D.C. For tickets, purchase them at the venue or online.

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2 Responses to Review: ‘Noah: Apocalypse’ at LiveArtDC

  1. Heather Whitpan September 10, 2017 at 11:22 am #

    Thanks for the review.

    There are actually about 16 bar chairs readily available on a first come first serve basis. The floor seating only accommodates maybe 6-7 people and there is plenty of standing room.

    Best,
    Heather Whitpan
    Producing Artistic Director
    LiveArtDC

  2. KathleenA September 11, 2017 at 1:33 pm #

    I know there’s a call elsewhere to remove this review since it’s only based on the first half of the show and so maybe this will be moot within a few hours, but as a playwright, director, and actor I take strong exception to the assertion by a critic that the “richest vein to mine in any Noah story . . . is in the relationships and the responses to guilt, moreso than in the sci-fi trappings.” Narrow absolutes are rarely useful in the creation of and response to art, and the critic even more than the artist is charged with responding to what was created not asserting what s/he would have created and/or defining the only “vein” in which anyone might reasonably hit pay dirt. Next time, maybe, “I was left uncertain about what was gained by the use of Noah as a framing device when some of the key dynamics of that Bible story were not emphasized, though perhaps the absence of an ‘expected’ level of guilt was meant as deliberate commentary on people today:” a sentence, of course, that would be easier to include if the critic had seen the whole show.