October 9, 2000
Methuselah goes up Oct. 11
By Deb Hammacher
George Bernard Shaw's epic five-part play Back to Methuselah is so technically difficult to stage that only a handful of productions have been done around the world since 1920.
Joining those exclusive ranks will be Theater Emory (TE), which will present the rarely produced work from Oct. 11 to Nov. 4. A full production of Methuselah could run upwards of seven hours, so TE's production will be staged in two parts, similar to how Angels in America and Nicholas Nickleby have been done elsewhere.
Why tackle a mammoth work that spans 31,920 B.C. to A.D. 31,920? "The time span and the length of the play intrigued me," said Acting Artistic Director Leslie Taylor. "The hubris and the imagination of the playwright stunned me."
Last year TE embarked on a multiyear investigation of Shaw's work under Taylor's predecessor, Vincent Murphy, who currently is on sabbatical. Still, Murphy assured Taylor that she was under no obligation to do a Shaw piece.
For Taylor, however, all the signs pointed to Methuselah, a work that had captivated her as a freshman at Wellesley College. She wasn't sure it could be pulled off. But Taylor was convinced when guest director Tim Ocel described a similar epiphany with Methuselah in recent months, and then TE colleague Michael Evenden said he'd also been fascinated by the work since high school.
"To me, that two other people I respect had been so captivated by this same work was the sign we should do it," Taylor said.
Ocel will stage four of the five parts, with Evenden directing the technically challenging Part IV as a period staged reading, circa 1920s. The audience will move to a different part of the theater for each section of the play.
In Methuselah, which is part of Emory's Year of Reconciliation, Shaw asks how long one would have to live to gain the maturity necessary to create a truly wise and just society.
The impressive cast includes some of the region's finest professional actors, including Emory’s own John Ammerman and Brenda Bynum, along with Stuart Culpepper, Betty Hart, Elisa Hurt, Chris Kayser and Tom Key, to name a few. Several Emory student actors also are in the cast.
Methuselah was written between 1918 and 1920. A complete picture of Shaw would balance the timeless playwright with the always-current political essayist and public speaker (he is said to have made some 2,000 political orations to a wide variety of audiences for many different causes), according to Evenden.
"At his best, the timeless and the historically specific join," Evenden said. "Although Back to Methuselah is pitched to the eternities, it was immediately inspired by the apocalyptic horrors of World War I, and key passages of Shaw's wartime essays and speeches are directly quoted in the dialogue."
Methuselah will be staged in two parts in the Mary Gray Munroe Theater in the Dobbs Center. Part I will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 11; 8 p.m. Oct. 13, 19, 26 and Nov. 2; 2 p.m., Oct. 21, 28 and Nov. 4; and 1 p.m., Oct. 22 and 29. Part II will be performed at 8 p.m., Oct. 12, 20, 21, 27, 28, Nov. 3 and 4; 2 p.m., Oct. 14; and 7 p.m., Oct. 22 and 29. Tickets may be purchased for either part or at a discount for both. The prices for either part purchased individually are $7.50 Emory students or $15 general admission. The prices for both parts purchased together are $15 Emory students, $25 general admission.