Chicago Theatre Review
Religion Versus Science
In the Garden: a Darwinian Love Story – Lookingglass Theatre
In a play that spans decades, a debate unfolds between two headstrong, but loving people and continues throughout their lives together. It pits English naturalist Charles Darwin against the rest of the Victorian world with his controversial theory that all species of life descended from common ancestors. Darwin’s Origin of Species introduced the scientific theory he called “natural selection” to a society whose belief that God is the Creator of all life. The man’s passionate position not only ruffles the feathers of society, but creates years of debate and strife between Darwin and the love of his life, Emma. Strong religious beliefs provide comfort in everyday life, particularly during times of trouble. It’s in those delicate moments when neither science nor God provides a balm for devastating events that this play really takes off.
Lookingglass Artistic Associate Sara Gmitter’s world premier, lovingly and compassionately directed in three-quarter round by Jessica Thebus, is a love story told against the battleground between Creation and Salvation. Played upon Collette Pollard’s bucolic scenic design that brings the garden right into the drawing room, and costumed in Mara Blumenfeld’s unbelievably gorgeous period costumes, this production is both breathtaking to watch and engaging to comprehend. One would find it difficult to believe that a continual debate between science and religion could be presented so eloquently and passionately, but Ms. Gmitter has accomplished this feat. This is a play that deserves a bright future in successful regional productions around the world.
Once again Ms. Thebus has a dream cast with which to work her magic. Jonathan Babbo and Caroline Hefferman are not simply charming as the inquisitive young Charles and his lovely cousin Emma; they transform with the assuredness of any adult actor into the Darwin’s children. Andrew White makes Darwin a truly human character, haunted by his passion for science and his deep love for his wife and family. Rebecca Spence plays Emma with dignity and spunk but with an all-consuming love that makes this character the focus of the philosophical debate. Cindy Gold and Austin Tichenor are fantastic in multiple roles, particularly Gold’s Harriet, Huxley and a very caring Aunt, and Tichenor’s elder Dr. Darwin, Charles‘ brother and a fire-and-brimstone Bishop of Oxford.
This is a production that’s warm and tender one moment and yet ratchets up controversial arguments and concessions the next. But, above all else, this is a passsionate love story in the very best sense. Science and God just happen to be the two characters that provide the conflict.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 26-June 15 by Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-337-0665 or by going to www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
Further information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.