BWW Reviews: DARWIN IN MALIBU - An Engaging Evening


Darwin in Malibu: Faith and Evolution at Mobtown Theater

By Mark Squirek

Everything changes. Everything adapts and eventually becomes something else. We age, we die and we become fertilizer and fodder for the future. Hell, that's how we got oil! In short, things evolve.

As much as every one of us knows that things change, the argument between science and religion about evolution goes on and on. One side says "I can't have come from an ape, no matter how much evidence you show me." The other replies "Hey, look at opposable thumbs. They had to come from somewhere."

To which a third party adds "Yeah, God gave me mine. You can think yours came from an ape, but I am much more comfortable with God."

The most common reason for disavowing evolution (change) in man is religious faith. So certain are these men and women of their beliefs that they will ignore any scientific "fact" placed in front of them. Their faith is that strong, a life sustaining force they need and enjoy.

To those whose lives aren't anchored in faith, for those who believe in science and science alone, for those who find skepticism and cynicism to be their religion, the idea of faith is almost impossible to understand.

Mobtown Theatre's production of Darwin in Malibu by Crispin Whittell is as much about faith as it is about evolution. It's an amazing line to walk and Whittle gives both sides their due as well as their own punch lines. The play is filled with raucous debate, a steadfast defense of one's ideas, wild theories and highly entertaining arguments. It is esoteric, ethereal and on many occasions, very funny.

As the lights rise the sounds of gulls and waves float across the theater. The large Mobtown stage seems even bigger as blues, pinks,light greens and browns fill the walls creating the impression of an eternal beach, the near emptiness creating a distinct feeling of never ending space. Across the back thin transparent drapes drift down from the ceiling, intimations of gentle winds just floating randomly.Sand sits strewn across the ground.

Near one corner, Charles Darwin (Mike Ware) sits quietly in a beach chair, clad in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He sits motionless, his Ray Ban sunglasses filtering the bright light around him.

It's a languid and appealing scene that immediately draws everyone in as we each wish we could find a moment's peace like Darwin obviously has. (We know it is Darwin because of the massive beard!) As he sits a very soft surf guitar riff drifts out and at first, gives a definite sense of place and time. This comfort in the place will change several times over the evening.

The initial absence of dialogue, the immersion into the beach through the visuals and sounds allows the audience to "decompress" into the play. Director Caitlin Bouxsein smartly lets the scene linger just long enough until we fall into Darwin's world without him even moving a muscle.

It's a beautiful beginning to a play that ultimately holds little physical action but contains thoughts and ideas as large and violent as the Universe itself.

No explanation for how Darwin came to be on a beach in California is offered and the idea begins to grow that time itself may or may not be standing still, that they may or may not be dead, or possibly just in Purgatory. Even he is perplexed, but he is comfortable and happy. And for Darwin, that means a lot.

After a few moments a beautiful young woman joins Darwin. As soon as Sarah (Anne Powell) enters, the two extremes of youth and age are placed before us. Her appearance and vitality provide a striking contrast to the bearded and wrinkled scientist. It is a perfect representation of how, just in our own lifetimes, we each evolve into something new and different.

Unlike Darwin, who has such a firm and established identity in the mind of us all, Sarah simply "is". She brings drinks filled with fruit and, at first, seems to almost be the caretaker of the beach. But there is much more to why she is there. At first a waiter and then a greeter for the visitors that shatter Darwin's peace, her meaning to Darwin shifts and changes.

It is the introduction of Thomas Henry Huxley (Kevin Burke), his sideburns hanging like the ancient gardens of Babylon, which complicates matters. Torn from the peace of his day to day existence, Darwin is now forced to directly deal with what he wrote in the Origin of the Species.

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Daniel Collins A communications professional for 25 years, Dan Collins was a theater critic for The Baltimore Examiner daily newspaper (2006-2009), covering plays throughout the Baltimore-Columbia area including Center Stage, The Everyman, The Fells Point Corner Theater, Mobtown Players, Vagabond Theater, Cockpit in Court, Spotlighters Theater, The Strand, Single Carrot Theater and others. Mr. Collins has been a reporter, features writer, editor and columnist since 1984, including stints with The Washington Times and the Times Publishing Group (later Patuxent Publishing and now part of The Baltimore Sun) in Baltimore. His freelance writing career has included his work for the Examiner as well as other publications including Baltimore Magazine.

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