Tonight we were at the kickoff of the fortieth anniversary season of Lincoln Center Out of Doors to watch a classic Civil Rights Era/1960s work of street theater, No Snakes in This Grass, a one-act play by James Magnuson.
The delightful performance of the play, directed by Mical Whitaker and presented by the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art, hearkened back to the origins of Lincoln Center Out of Doors as the Everyman-Community Street Theater Festival.
No Snakes in This Grass was actually originally done by the Everyman Street Theater Company, founded by the actress Geraldine Fitzgerald and Brother Jonathan, and yeah, we're old enough to remember both of them and the company!
The setting is the Garden of Eden and the three characters are Adam (Adam Couperthwaite), Eve (Robbie Ann Darby) and, um, God (Hugh O'Neill). The program states the play's premise:
God is shocked to find himself confronted with a modern Adam, fig leaf in cap and full of confidence. Adam has read the script this time, he has the Bible under his arm. No mistakes this time, he's going to send Cain and Abel to separate schools, have the boats ready for the Flood, etc. But Adam comes up short when he is confronted with a black Eve. In his anger and despair over things not going according to his plan, Adam gives a new and frighteningly modern twist to the concept of the original sin.
It's of course dated, with talk of "separate but equal" and a horror of race mixing that simply seems absurd in 2010 - but the play was deftly acted by the three principals, surprisingly still wry and clever in parts, and fast-paced. The actors used the theater-in-the-round setting effectively, and since we were sitting on the ground behind a few rows of chairs, we're glad we got to see them from time to time, although they were fun to listen to even when not visible.
There were a few updatings as to setting if not necessarily to time. God led off by saying He expected some of these were to see South Pacific instead of Him, and then announced he'd created the South Pacific - not the play, but the analogue to another of his creations the North Atlantic. He also levitated the Vivian Beaumont Theatre as proof He was who He said He was.
Adam Couperthwaite was an energetic, wide-eyed and engaging Adam despite his racist views, a point made by Robbie Ann Darby as a feisty, sensible Eve when she admits that this segregationist does have a certain offbeat charm. And Hugh O'Neill made for a self-effacing, whimsical but ultimately righteous (and a little scary) God.
It was a great little time capsule, jauntily and efficiently directed by Mical Whitaker, whose artist roots were in New York City street theater. We enjoyed it fully and wouldn't have minded watching it a second time. Thanks to all involved, including executive producer Shirley J. Radcliffe of RACCA, one of the original Everyman Street Theater Companies.