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Lookingglass’ “In The Garden” Review – Telling Darwin’s Story Through a Domestic Lens

By Amy Munice

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Emma cannot truly believe that her husband doesn't see the divine in his own children and other miracles of their life


“In the Garden” opens with lines from the Bible’s “Genesis” and closes with Darwin telling his wife that he is adding a reference to “the Creator” in his second edition of “The Origin of Species”.  Between these two bookends is a presentation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the transmutation of species in the context of his life story and his times, and in particular the clash of his ideas with those of his devout wife Emma. 


Their different world views never get in the way of the Darwins' chemistry for each other


That Darwin and his wife maintained a healthy respect for each other’s views without leaving their own core beliefs is the crux of the story. 


We see young Charles Darwin recently returned from his journey on The Beagle facing his own sexual attraction to beautiful Emma (Rebecca Spence)


That the Darwins’ intimacy and small space between them allowed them debate without shouting is a core idea of this script and one presented in so many words towards the play’s conclusion.  


Darwin (Andrew White) and his children (Jonathan Babbo and Caroline Heffernan) are the picture of domesticity in a home that is always part-garden


If you are impassioned by the debate between Creationists and those embracing the theory of evolution this is definitely your play.  If you land firmly on one or the other side of that debate without emotional fire you will still find this a worthwhile script, if not an all-embracing passionate drama.  It is a tale well told, well-acted, with tight direction, and inspired set design with a story requiring you infuse it with your own passions on these subjects to make it come alive.


Darwin's atheist brother (Austin Tichenor) taunts Emma (Rebecca Spence) with the inconsistency of her views while his wife (Cindy Gold) and Charles Darwin (Andrew White) watch her unwavering faith deflect his attacks


The script is rich with bon mots and well-put phrases that engage and make it memorable.  For example, you will likely never forget Emma Darwin’s words of grief on the passing of her eldest daughter as she embraces her husband and reflects on how she must continue “to make the tea” and attend to domestic chores as if life had not changed forever.


It is that moment when their eldest daughter is dying when we see the two lead characters transform and meet in the middle.  Awaiting his daughter’s imminent death prompts agnostic Darwin to kneel in prayer.  Meanwhile, his pious wife Emma opens doors of doubt in Divine will for the first time. 


The domestic lens of the script keeps the focus on tensions between a secular and divine view and does not attempt to portray other real-world dynamics that shaped Darwin’s publication history. For example, the story makes no mention of Darwin rushing to publish his works to pre-empt younger and lower-caste Alfred Wallace’s publication of a similar view. (Read “The Heretic in Darwin’s Court: The Life of Alfred Wallace" by Chicago’s own Ross Slotten M.D. for a vibrant telling of that aspect of the tale.) 


Darwin shares his excitement for his theories with his children, showing them the hand-like appendages in dissimilar species that leads him to posit their common ancestor


This will be an especially excellent play for young adults learning about evolution for the first time.


“In the Garden” runs through June 15, 2014, Tuesdays through Sundays, including weekend matinees in Lookingglass Theatre Company in the historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 North Michigan Avenue at Pearson.


For tickets and more information visit the Lookingglass Theatre website or phone 312 337 0665




Photos: Liz Lauren

Published on Apr 27, 2014

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