The Myths We Need - or - How to Begin
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 4, 2011
Playwright Larry Kunofsky reaches back not to the New Testament but further to the Old in his new play, The Myths We Need, or How to Begin. This is an allegory based on the story of Adam and Eve. It takes place in a small, crowded shack inhabited by a man called "The Kid." He works for "The Boss," who lives in the big house at the top of the hill, and his condition vis-a-vis his employer seems to be just this side of enslavement: The Boss makes all the rules and The Kid needs to obey them—"my way or the highway," warns the older man.
In a succession of scenes, familiar events play out. The Kid complains that he is lonely, and so The Boss provides a female companion for him ("The Tomater"). Some innocent joyous moments follow as the young couple talk about making up names for all the objects around them. Then a temptress who used to shack up with The Boss ("The Old Broad") turns up, offering The Tomater some applejack along with a bagful of apples from The Boss's private stock. The Tomater shares these with The Kid when he gets home from work. When The Boss discovers what's happened, he is furious, while his two underlings feel shame. The Kid and The Tomater are exiled.
Kunofsky and director Jose Zayas make a number of provocative choices here. The Kid is portrayed by an African American actor, Luke Forbes; especially when he tells others on stage that some nice thing they are doing is "awfully white" of them, racial tension informs the biblical plot. Most of the scenes are illuminated by on-stage lanterns operated by the actors—an interesting notion for the play's opening dialogue (when the Boss says "let there be light" but one that bogged down the action oftentimes thereafter. Virtually all of the dialogue in the play is in 1920s' vernacular and slang: people aren't asked to leave but rather "given the gate"; when The Kid discovers the momentary bliss of liquor he says it's the "cat's pajamas." This device is intriguing but I never finally understood its purpose.
And I felt similarly about the piece as whole. The early scenes seem to be about how the notion of an omnipotent God oppresses its believers, but later, when the abstract concept of the tree of knowledge was replaced with the more concrete stimulation of alcohol and sex, I found myself losing the play's thematic thread. In addition to Forbes, the cast includes Hugh Sinclair as The Boss, Annie Henk (who is very good) as The Old Broad, and Anna Lamadrid as The Tomater. The Myths We Need includes a talk about adult subjects and "adult" subjects, and contains a fairly lengthy, if dimly lit, nude scene, and thus may not be appropriate for everyone. I just wished that its challenges and provocations would have added up to more in my own mind.