by Cynthia Citron
At some point in his life the thinking man will usually ask himself three important questions: Who—or what—am I? Where am I? and How did I get here?
At this point in time a select group of thinking men have come up with two distinct hypotheses. Unfortunately, the two are mutually exclusive. And trying to integrate them usually leads to a misunderstanding.
Which leads to Matt Chait’s new play “A Misunderstanding” which attempts to explain it all.
“The Explainer” is Matt Chait himself, playing a world-renowned biologist named Bertram Cates who is trying to regain his position at a California university three years after he was dismissed for teaching his students the theory of Creationism.
He is opposed by the Chairman of the Biology Department, Joshua Brownstein (played by Bruce Katzman), a staunch Evolutionist. And although the two men are long-time friends, they each hold their convictions with unyielding passion.
Cates’ position is that life is a moment to moment process, encompassing the ability to experience and also to desire. He contrasts “the self” with the “sense of self”, a condition which he describes as a much deeper consciousness of one’s own being. And to demonstrate how to get to that deeper consciousness, that “nonphysical consciousness of the self,’” he invites Brownstein to sit quietly and contemplate his breathing. (This exercise is the first in an attempt to achieve Mindfulness, a calming state that is not mentioned in the play, but is quietly acknowledged by the declarations that Cates puts forth.)
Brownstein, on the other hand, is a confirmed Evolutionist, a disciple of Charles Darwin who believes that life has evolved through a series of advantageous mutations. To which Cates
counters with his belief that life begins with consciousness and that all living things consist of “consciousness attached to an organism”. It is that awareness of their own life, he believes, that leads to the desire to live and to survive. “All living things compete for survival,” he says, adding, “I am a survival machine!”
Meanwhile, Brownstein’s daughter Melinda (Amy-Helene Carlson) is having her own quarrel with her fiance, Howard (Dennis Renard). Not because Howard is a Creationist and long-time student of Professor Cates, but because he has not shared this information with her. Also because she harbors a terrible resentment of Cates’ teaching, which resulted in one of his students having committed suicide. To Joshua Brownstein, that act is made more terrible by Cates’ initial refusal to accept responsibility for it.
In the end, the theatergoers are left to draw their own conclusions about Evolution or Intentional Creationism. And all four characters in the play, under the tight direction of Elina de Santos, make a mind-boggling case for their own point of view. There is little action and lots and lots of talk — absolutely fascinating talk that keeps the audience engaged throughout. And perhaps agreeing, finally, with Cates’ summing up of his own beliefs versus Brownstein’s, as well as Melinda’s versus Howard’s, by concluding: “All there is is love and misunderstanding.”
“A Misunderstanding”, now having its World Premiere at the Ruby Theatre @ The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, will continue Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm through February 3rd. For tickets, call (323) 960-4418 or online at www.plays411.com/misunderstanding.