I’ve never been a soap opera fan. Melodrama isn’t really my speed. But over the past three and a half years, I’ve been immersed in the Book of Genesis, devising a national theater series inspired by the soap-operatic stories of a super messed-up family. There’s attempted fratricide, attempted filicide (I had to look that word up and I am now self-conscious about my search history), polygamy, sister polygamy (which I’m using as the word for when one man marries a pair of sisters, because I’m too afraid to google it), abuse, deceit, manipulation, true love, true hate, faith, doubt, and idol worship. In short: melodrama.
There’s also another word for the story of this family: “war.” When I think of the word “war,” the first and last thing that comes to my mind is military conflict. I think of the Enola Gay and the Memphis Belle. I think of Lexington and Concord, Normandy, and Napoleon. I think of Kim Jong Un. Weapons, machinery, borders, nation-states, “strategery.” I don’t think about war as an internal struggle. But of course, that’s a form of war as well. Demons like addiction and mental illness can become enemies in a battle against oneself. Even further from my mind is family. I was very fortunate to grow up in a family without much in the way of conflict. Plenty of tragedy and trauma, like any other normal family. But not conflict.
If you read the Book of Genesis, it’s hard to imagine what the relationships must have been like for this family. Abraham tells everyone his wife Sarah is his sister so that he won’t be killed before she is raped, and that same guy tries to murder his son. That son plays favorites among his own sons (as does his wife, with disastrous consequences for family harmony). And those sons almost repeat the original fratricidal myth from Eden. Twice costumes are used to deceive in monumental family rituals, and every woman in the story, except for ugly, unloved Leah, struggles with fertility.
It’s a war for these people. A war they wage and survive in the name of perpetuating this idea of monotheism, this relationship with a God they believe to be the truth. Passing down that truth is the sole mission, and everyone seems to be singularly focused on it, to the detriment of personal relationships.
I have never believed anything so strongly as to warrant such behavior. And my family doesn’t stick together because of conviction, but because of affinity. Affinity is rarely to be found in the Book of Genesis. But war is. Good old, knock-down, drag-out family war.
So we made some plays around the country. Five of them. And they’ll all be showing at the Theater at the 14th Street Y in May. A month of war. And maybe peace? You’ll have to come to find out!