Ian and Sarah have had what would seem to be the perfect marriage, not only of hearts but of minds, his work as an evolutionary biologist complimenting hers as a pathologist with none of that religious mumbo-jumbo attached. Then one night Ian gets struck by lightning and all that changes in an instant.

Thus begins Kathryn Walat’s intriguing, thought-provoking new drama Creation, now getting its World Premiere in a production that makes it abundantly clear why The Theatre @ Boston Court is as top-tier as 99-Seat-Plan theater gets.

 Though Ian (Johnathan McClain) would appear to have made a complete recovery, thanks in considerable part to the 911 call made by Sarah (Deborah Puette) in the nick of time, there are subtle and not-so-subtle changes in her husband that Sarah can’t help but notice. He seems overly preoccupied, no longer “gets” her sense of humor, and has developed a sudden love for Tootsie Roll Pops, which he uses to “conduct” the classical music CDs he has begun to collect.

Concern for her husband’s altered mental state sends Sarah to consult with Lebanese-American neurologist (and hospital colleague) Amal (Ethan Rains). Meanwhile, Ian has embarked on a budding friendship with Masters In Music major Zach (Adam Silver), a gay man suffering from a pesky case of composer’s block.

 When Ian begins hearing music inside his head, not just occasionally but 24/7, he begins to wonder if this mental symphony might not be divinely inspired, and if maybe just perhaps the Christian fundamentalists who’ve sent him long letters condemning his writings on evolution might have a point.

Meanwhile, a confused Sarah becomes increasing troubled by the changed man she sees before her and by the possibility that her brief moment of hesitation before calling 911 the night of the lightning storm might be the cause of Ian’s disturbing change of mind.

 As Ian and Sarah’s marriage seems headed inexorably towards self-destruct, playwright Walat explores the various meanings of the word she has chosen as the title of her play. First of all, there is the creative process, in which Zach finds himself frozen and which Ian now finds outside his ability to control. There is also the notion of creating of a new life, something which Ian and Sarah have been resolutely postponing but which Sarah now sees as at least a partial solution to her marital woes. Then there is the battle being waged between scientific fact (evolution) and religious belief (creationism) in our schools, in our churches, and now in Ian and Sarah’s home. And finally there is the possibility that a bolt of lightning may have created a whole new Ian, for better or for worse.

Though the characters Walat has created (there’s that word again) are as flawed as you or I, the playwright resists the temptation to make any of them the villain of the piece, nor does she demonize Ian’s embracing of views that would have at one time been anathema to him, and still are to Sarah. Walat gives us much to ponder, and my guess is that there will be plenty of post-performance discussion going on as audiences exit the theater and head on home after the show.

 Director Michael Michetti’s magic touch is evident in the cast’s all-around terrific performances as well as in the collaborative efforts of the director and his crackerjack design team.

Though there’s not a weak link onstage at Boston Court, it’s the non-scientific characters who get the richest assignments and therefore get to give the most colorful performances, McClain as a man whose near-death experience has been both liberating and troubling, and Silver as someone who finds his creative processes at a standstill until he makes a Faustian deal that may indeed cost him his soul. Both McClain and Silver are acting chameleons who vanish into the skin of each new character they play, and both have that “in the moment” quality that seems an innate part of our finest actors. Not surprisingly, their scenes together are the play’s most electric, particularly with the ever-present undercurrent of Zach’s not entirely platonic interest in his new friend.

The always excellent Puette is never less than captivating in any role she plays, and her Sarah is no exception, a woman whose marriage is being put in jeopardy both by the changes she sees in her husband and the feelings she is starting to develop for another man. It helps that Rains, in addition to being a first-rate actor, happens to have a darkly sexy appeal as Amal, one that it is easy to imagine Sarah having a hard time resisting.

 Michetti’s creative partnership with scenic designer Francois-Pierre Couture proves every bit as inspired here as it was earlier this year in The Dinosaur Within, the duo this time joining forces with projection designer extraordinaire Adam Flemming to create a pastel-hued set that is both simple and stunning, one that transforms in seconds into rooms and offices superimposed upon each other, Couture and Flemming aided and abetted by the striking lighting design of Andrew J. Hungerford, whose work I am seeing for the first time. Bruno Louchouarn’s original music and sound design subtly enhance Creation’s mystery and suspense. Kate Bergh’s costumes are splendid character-specific designs each and every one. Jenny Smith’s properties design completes a design package that anyone planning a 99-seat plan production would do well to check out, if only to see the standards of quality and creativity that can be achieved by designers of brilliance and ingenuity like those assembled here.

Luke Kanter is assistant director. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. Alyssa Escalante is production stage manager.

One of the most fascinating new plays I’ve seen this past year, Kathryn Walat’s Creation is even better for having been nurtured at The Theatre @ Boston Court. With Michael Michetti and his cast and team of designers doing their creative best, Walat’s drama comes alive in this absorbing, provocative World Premiere.

Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
October 14, 2012
Photos: Ed Krieger

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