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I am afraid I do not altogether concur with Elissa Silverman’s review of the Rorschach Theatre’s production of Archibald MacLeish’s J.B. (Curtain Calls, 9/28), which is based on the Biblical book of Job. For one thing, the play’s Job is not, as Silverman seems to think, identical to the book’s; he lacks the piety and humility of the latter. At the end of the play, MacLeish’s Job, unlike the book’s, if not outright rejecting God, chooses instead human love and human hope as his highest values. Thus the play is secularist. While, to my mind, secularism is a gravely flawed worldview, I admire the play’s intelligence and clear-sightedness.
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For another, Silverman regards Richard Kirkwood’s portrayal of the actor who portrays God in the play-within-the-play as inadequate because he is “distant” and “stoic.” The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides argues in his Guide for the Perplexed that, of the Creator, “we can apprehend only His existence, not His nature.” In other words, the One who created the universe out of nothing cannot at all be compared to His creation as a whole, nor to any part of it. I do not know if Kirkwood or the play’s director, Randy Baker, had Maimonides’ teaching in mind, but the portrayal of God was pretty consonant with it, and, in this case at least, sound philosophy makes for good drama. It is extremely difficult to present the supernatural directly on the stage in a way that is at all credible. (Think of the many unfortunate attempts with the three witches in Macbeth.) As I see it, with the Creator, the ultimate in the supernatural, making Him as “distant” (i.e., as wholly other) as possible is the best route. Does this make it more difficult for the audience to “relate” to the Creator or to understand the piety of the play’s Job (before he rejects it)? If so, it might also make the audience reflect on what true piety ought to be.