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