Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Gaia? More like goodbye-a!

A few days ago, my friend and I performed Eric Samuelsen’s one-act play, called Gaia. Our “performance” was really just a cold read of the play—I thought it would be more fun to read the play out loud with someone than inwardly by myself—and our “acting” was obscured by the first-time discovery of what we were reading. We tried to hide our emotions as we told the story of Lucifer and Eve in the preexistence, of Lucifer’s disgust with the unfairness of God’s plan, of Eve trying to persuade Lucifer to come to Earth with her, and of God’s own life as a mortal before all of this happened.
          In the grand tradition of Mormon literature, Samuelsen himself has amazingly recorded what he himself thinks the preexistence was like! His additions to the concept include ideas about Lucifer could have been the first man on earth, or how God's own mortality was provincial and short. I’m not going to criticize how stale of an idea this whole play is; sure, it’s been done, but people should write about what they want to write about. I don’t know why so many authors think that their Mormonism only extends as far as The Fall of Adam and Eve, but hey—Milton’s Paradise Lost didn’t go any further. Maybe someday we’ll have a Milton who can tell that story in a new, permanent way.

          What instead bothers me about Gaia is its total ignorance of technique, form, irony, and gravity. My friend and I reveled in the chance to ham up the play’s two emotions: scorn (Lucifer) and lachrymosity (Eve). That one-dimensionality combined with total sincerity made lines like “Engage with me!” and “It could have been you” ring with bathos. (Our audience was keeled over for most of the play.) Could Samuelsen not have come up with less operatic dialogue?
          And why is this story even a play at all? Reading it out loud made me realize how much this story doesn’t need a theater, a stage, props, or a congregation. It could have worked just as well (and appeared less ludicrous) as a short story, or—goodness me—an essay! But this inattention to aesthetic is Samuelsen’s plague; it’s clear that Gaia is not interested in creating art, but in serving as a vehicle for Samuelsen’s own ideological convictions.
          In short: I'd give it a 24%, a lead medal, a 2 out of 10 iPods. Go see it only if there is no other play showing in your city.


  1. Ha ha yeah it was an interesting one, huh? I love that you "acted out" the play. I think that reading it, acting it out, and listening to it give us such different interpretations of the play. And I think by acting it out, you quickly realized how awkward the dialogue was. I agree that a short story might have been a better approach.

  2. I also agree that the dialogue was awkward in this play. It was an interesting idea, but I think the dialogue distracts from its potential.

  3. I hadn't thought of the different mediums that this story could have been delivered in. I think the play format offers the immediate character interaction Samuelson may have been going for, but I also think an essay might have been better as well. Also, props for reading it out loud. It really does enable better feedback to the work as a play.

  4. I agree that though I appreciated the interesting view on so often used a topic, I found the actual writing kind of flat. However, I wonder if that was on purpose. I think about conversations I have with those I care about who have gone astray and I think those conversations go different for everyone. Maybe the lack of emotion was an opportunity for those reading to input their personal emotion and method of discussing a heartbreaking situation.

  5. I really, really love this piece.

    Part of that is that I first saw it performed with really solid actors. Arisael Rios as Lucifer knew when to use scorn and when to show just how much he wanted to reach Eve, to convince her. Seeing the pull between the two: how much Lucifer wants to reach Eve, how much Eve wants to straighten out Lucifer, was one of the big emotional pulls for me. They felt so close. People who knew each other, worked together, and frustrated each other in the way only truly close people can--with a terrible divide between them over the most basic questions about existence. When the actors feel the relationship beneath the text, that dialogue comes to life. It sparkles and pulls and shines.

    I think the play this scene is from, The Plan, is one of the most intellectually ambitious Mormon plays written...well, ever. The way he layers in Gabriel as the angel who protected the mammals when the dinosaurs die: that blew my mind. The play "Inherit the Wind" argues that science and religion can co-exist--then Samuelsen walks along and has Punctuated Equilibrium and Genesis dance.

    I get that this isn't everyone's favorite piece of theater. But I think there's a lot there that you miss in a quick read with an eye toward critique. Figuring out how the piece can work and the ideas it plays with when it does...it's beautiful. It's stayed with me for years since I first ran across it.