Heidi Schreck and Justin Kruger
in How the World Began
(© Carol Rosegg)
Heidi Schreck and Justin Kruger
in How the World Began
(© Carol Rosegg)
As we learn at the outset of Catherine Trieschmann's intriguing new play How the World Began, now being presented by the Women's Project at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre under Daniela Topol's direction, we realize that if 16-year-old Kansas resident Micah Staab (Justin Kruger) weren't a Christian fundamentalist, he'd make an excellent Jesuit.

Why? Micah takes offense at an offhand remark made by his new, city-bred biology teacher, Susan Pierce (Heidi Schreck) -- she alludes to nonscientific theories of the origins of life as "gobbledygook" -- and proceeds to grill her mercilessly.

First, Ms. Pierce claims not to have said it ("not part of my vocabulary"). Then, having admitted to the slip, she twists in the wind as he forces her to admit to the belief system underlying her dismissal of his.

As imagined by Trieschmann (who herself now resides in a small Kansas town), Pierce forfeits likability points early in the debate by acting doggedly disingenuous -- although she may simply be hoping to prevent the incursion of a "faith vs. reason" debate into the classroom. And even after she points out that her curriculum has been set by the state, Micah -- who is still reeling from the tornado that killed 17 town residents -- remains intent on locking horns.

Just as this portion of the play starts to seem a bit pro forma, Trieschmann wisely shakes up the mix by introducing a would-be mediator, Gene Dinkel (Adam LeFevre), Micah's amiable self-appointed guardian. Opening negotiations with the gift of a lemon meringue pie, this mild-mannered, dungaree-clad guy proves to be one smart cookie.

However, in typical adolescent fashion, Micah wants no help attaining his objective of getting an apology -- and wants no one speaking on his behalf. The triangle heats up -- and Micah turns out to have a burning need of his own to confess to a distinctly un-Christian transgression.

Kruger, an intense young performer, does a fantastic job conveying the ardor of a young idealist. However, Micah's serial breakdowns -- too studiedly choreographed -- don't read as real. And it's hard to emotionally connect with Ms. Pierce -- who is prickly and often cruel -- even though one couldn't ask for a more winning performer than Shreck, who exudes both intelligence and warmth.

In the end, the primary payoff of this exercise is the glimpse it offers into lives that truly rely on faith -- whatever its merit -- to keep forging ahead.