New York City Theater
37 Arts, Manhattan
Design, direction, performances, choreography, book, music, lyrics all come together in “The Ark” to turn an ancient Biblical tale into a refreshing new musical. Under Ray Roderick’s inspired direction, the theater becomes the Ark, the audience itself Noah’s animals. Even as one enters, signs indicate “Mammals” and “Reptiles,” with jungle sounds pervading the house. Set designer Beowulf Boritt’s two-leveled Ark interior, with dark wood, wheels, and ropes dominate three sides of the theater, encompassing both players and audience. Willy-nilly, this is participatory theater.
So much for setting. But when the eight players (Noah, his wife, three sons, and their three wives) arrive singing a welcome to the animals, a very human family story unfolds. Rigid fathers, self-absorbed husbands, neglected wives, rebellious sons are all on hand. It works, because a gifted team has created a tightly-knit book, haunting lyrics, and diverting music inspired by such genres as rock, blues, honky-tonk, gospel (music by Michael McLean, book and lyrics by McLean and Kevin Kelly).
Director Roderick gives clean, sharp-edged direction/choreography to his ensemble as they scramble about, lurching to the sway of the Ark. There are hilarious, as well as poignant, moments. At one point, the family, tiring of a vegetarian diet, wanders into the audience and contemplates setting up a barbecue grill.
Even in this fine ensemble, D. B. Bonds is a stand-out, bringing a strong stage presence to his role as the cynical, rebellious Ham. And Janeese Aisha Freeman is every bit his match as his bride, the luscious Egyptus. Adrian Zmed (Noah) and Annie Golden (Noah’s wife) provide a lovely, tender moment when they sing “Hold On” (arguably the best song in a collection of poetic pieces). Solid work also from Justin Brill as Shem, Marie-France Arcilla as his wife Martha, Rob Sutton as Japheth and Jacquelyn Piro as his wife Sariah.
-- Irene Backalenick
Nov. 13, 2005