Chicago Theatre Review
Indecision Hampers Court’s ‘Good Book’
The Good Book – Court Theatre
“The Good Book,” an all-new play from Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson that is receiving its world-premiere staging at Court Theatre, cannot be faulted for its ambition. A multifaceted look at the origins of the Judeo-Christian Bible, “The Good Book” centers on three different narratives, all of differing time periods and motivations – and if only the play could make up its mind, it would succeed marvelously.
The plays’ narratives are as follows: the present day, where a respected professor of religious studies (the wonderful Hollis Resnik) teaches an introductory course on the Bible’s origins – though she herself, ironically, is a non-believer; the ’70s, where we follow the pained audio diaries of Connor, a devoutly religious (and closeted gay) man who, in the hands of the brilliant Alex Weisman, provides the film with its moral backbone; and various flashbacks of various time periods, which flesh out the historical moments that key passages in the Bible were written, re-written, and then edited under political auspices.
Exhaustively researched and compellingly organized, “The Good Book” packs an incredible amount of information in its briskly paced near-three hour running time, with the first act being particularly taut and interesting. Things falter somewhat, though, in the play’s second half, when a near-death experience thrusts Resnik’s character into a quasi-purgatory that may – just may – suggest a higher power. It’s not so much that I have a problem with the play suggesting the existence of such a power, but rather, that it gels uncomfortably with the play’s other passages, which argue (highly convincingly) that the Bible’s origins are, if anything, dubious, and that organized religion and the gods it purports to follow an endless chamber of confused and ignorance; next to such razor-sharp modern critiques, the near-death explorations of the second act feel decidedly old fashioned, and not in a good way.
Still, there is much to recommend. The cast is excellent, with Court Theatre regular Allen Gilmore a delight in the historical sequences and Weisman only building on his mesmerizing work in TimeLine Theatre’s “My Name is Asher Lev.” O’Hare and Peterson’s writing is clean, sharp, and often hilarious. And once again, Court has offered us an immaculate stage, with Rachel Hauck’s scenic design and Keith Parham’s lighting design top-notch.
So though it may not quite tie together its loose ends, “Good Book” certainly continues Court’s high quality standards, and its unlike anything else on a Chicago stage right now.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through April 19 at Court Theatre, 5535 S Ellis Ave, Chicago, IL 60637
Tickets are available by calling 773-753-4472 or by visiting www.courttheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.