Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Creation, the Play

A few weeks ago my English class went to see a fantastic play at the NAC. It's called Creation, and it's a retelling of stories from Genesis. With music. And a woman playing God. And a million other little touches that made it fantastic!

Anyways, about a week later we were told to write a essay on one of the stories we'd read so far this year. But while I had appreciated the craft and message behind a few (especially The Yellow Wallpaper), none of them called to me the way Creation did. It was a pleasure to watch, and to analyze afterwards, the way so few works we examine in English class are.

So I decided to write my "New Historicism"* essay on Creation. Once big problem: I didn't have the script, and I needed to quote from it. I am so grateful to Karen Gilogo at the NAC for sending me the script, and then subsequently putting me in touch with the playwright, Peter Anderson.

I sent Mr. Anderson a scatter-brained email, and he replied in depth to my questions, touching on things I hadn't even realized would be perfect for my analysis. I am so grateful for his help, without which I would not have had an essay.

So this week, I'm going to shameless steal my blog post from a school assignment. Without further ado, my essay:

The New Story of Creation 

Creation, a play by Peter Anderson, reinterprets stories from the Old Testament through a modern lens, and the retold stories sharply diverge from the original biblical tales. Anderson's life and the modern times during which he wrote the play clearly influenced the changes he made to the stories and the subjects he chose to critique. This influence of social context is particularly evident in Anderson’s treatment of the role of women, environmentalism and the power distribution over different social classes. 

            There are many differences between the place and power of women in the Bible and in Creation, and these differences are the result of Anderson's modern upbringing. Anderson grew up in a household with two educated and working parents, and learned that a marriage was a partnership. This view is evident in the play when one of the angels asks of the nameless wives of the many ancestors of Abraham, “How come the women got forgot?” (Anderson, Creation 55). In the original biblical stories, women are chattel. For example, a man's wife is among the possessions that others are forbidden to covet (NIV Bible, Genesis 20.17). This reflects the cultural values of the time, as does Anderson’s demand for the recognition of the women. Anderson's modern and feminist views are also visible in his assertion that an all-powerful creator need not be male. Having attended “University of Michigan from 1968-72 during... the birth of the Women's Liberation Movement,” Anderson was exposed to the fight women face for equality in a society that is patriarchal to the core (Anderson, “Re: Creation Essay”). In his play, Anderson chose a more inclusive interpretation and questioned the assumption of a male God by saying that “God is both Father / And Mother” (Anderson, Creation 9). He contradicts the legend of God as the Father that is told again and again in the Bible, a legend which reflects its creation during a time when men ruled absolutely. Thus, Anderson’s representation of female power and importance in Creation stems from his life experiences in a society where women could fight for and hold power.

Anderson, influenced by modern environmental awareness, stresses the need for harmony between humans and nature in Creation. Having read The Silent Spring, a book which shows the widespread negative effects of pesticide use, Anderson was well aware of the harm humans can cause nature when he was writing Creation. In the Bible, God causes the flood due to "man's wickedness," but in Creation the cause of the flood is people's mistreatment of the environment (Genesis 6.5). Naomi tells the unheeding townspeople that "All of creation God gives humans to use, / But if this privilege is misused / God's justice permits Creation to punish us" (Anderson, Creation 31). Here Anderson alludes to the disasters humankind can bring upon itself if it is not careful of the environment – disasters which were just coming into public consciousness during his youth and writing. While writing Creation, Anderson was influenced by the concept of Creation Spirituality, which holds that humans and nature share a holy relationship. In Creation, Abel holds a similar view; he "hug[s] trees / And roam[s] around with beasts," and proclaims that the “land is God’s, not Cain’s” (Anderson, Creation 24). Abel is portrayed as sensible and sympathetic, while his brother Cain is cruel and proud. The argument that ends with Cain killing Abel begins over the brothers’ differing views of the correct treatment of the land. In the Bible, written in a time during which environmental awareness was undeveloped, the only motivation for the murder is Cain's jealousy that Abel has God's favour. The cultural context in which Anderson wrote Creation changed the reasons he gave for events which are mirrored from the Bible.

Anderson’s personal experiences with the social divide motivated his portrayal of the character of the ass named Working Class. As a young adult, Anderson “was acutely aware ... of the fact that those drafted and fighting in Vietnam were from the working and lower classes. Those more well-off (like [him]self) who could afford to attend university, received a student deferment from military service” (Anderson, “Re: Creation Essay”). This experience of the rich leaders of the country using the poor as tools shows itself in Creation when the ass is renamed Driveshaft by Cain, who sees him as a tool. According to Cain, the poor are put on earth by god "To ease our workload / And clean the commodes / Of our humble abodes / While we live life more" (Anderson, Creation 26). Cain's unsympathetic portrayal as a cruel master is evidence of Anderson's dislike of those with insensitive attitudes towards those lower in station. Growing up as the 'rich' middle class kid in a working class neighborhood, Anderson was exposed at a young age to the unfairness of a class structure in which the poor have no voice (Anderson, “Re: Creation Essay). In Creation, the humans eventually lose their ability to understand the ass, mirroring the way in which the poor and working classes are often ignored by those of higher status in modern society. Anderson’s modern outlook on class divides motivated his attempt to critique them.

Peter Anderson's play Creation is a thought-provoking and intensely entertaining work of art. Although the shape of the stories is drawn from the Bible, the underlying messages and ideas clearly demonstrate a modern perspective. The context of the writing obviously influenced the choices Anderson made with regard to his portrayal of women, the environment and social classes, much as the context of ancient society influenced the content of the original tales.

Works Cited
Anderson, Peter. Creation (playing version). 2012. PDF.
Anderson, Peter. "Re: Creation Essay." Email to the author. 25 Feb. 2012.
Fox, Matthew. A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity. Inner Transformations, 2006. Web.
NIV Adventure Bible, Revised, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. Print.

*To be honest, I'm not sure if it actually ended up being a New Historicism critique - that's just the only one of the options we had that it might fit in.

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