'Creating Claire'

Drama soberly considers the missing link between faith and science.

Joe DiPietro is turning serious. The author of the ever-popular “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and currently a Tony contender for scripting Broadway’s “Memphis,” DiPietro is associated with lighter fare. In a change of pace, DiPietro’s “Creating Claire” at George Street Playhouse soberly considers the missing link between faith and science. Director David Saint gives the new two-act drama a clear-cut staging with supportive design and an effective cast, but DiPietro’s contemporary look at a family and friends split over Darwin’s theory still needs to evolve.

Nice, middle-aged Claire (Barbara Walsh) is a guide at a science museum who starts spouting the argument for intelligent design. Claire’s mildly-expressed creationist slant attracts extra visitors but soon leads to legal action versus a disapproving museum chief (Lynn Cohen), who snorts, “All the designers I know are either gay men or Jewish women.”

Matters go especially critical at home where atheist spouse Reggie (Michael Countryman) agonizes over what Claire might teach their autistic teen Abigail (Celia Keenan-Bolger). The play suggests that formerly agnostic Claire’s newfound belief relates to her daughter’s regressing condition.

Mulling a middlebrow brew of Big Bang theories and spiritual concerns, DiPetro’s compact, neatly crafted drama focuses more on Claire’s growing faith and its effect upon her marriage than upon hotly debating the issues. This portrait of a straining relationship still remains sketchy, and despite Countryman’s typical warm sincerity, Reggie is an underdeveloped soul.

Claire could use more detail as well, although Walsh nicely shades her with a sense of wonder. Dealing with an obviously composite character — the crusty museum boss not only just so happens to be an old family chum but also is coping valiantly with a dying partner — the ever-tart Cohen nearly makes the contrived lady believable.

The most affecting figure is Abigail, a spunky sweetheart given a rapt stare and terrific urgency by “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” vet Keenan-Bolger. DiPietro is especially crafty in employing Abigail’s repetitive speech to underline story points and ratchet up the tension. A “Joe Egg”-style bit when Abigail materializes as a normal bratty teen is a sharp break from the pensive play’s generally quasi-realist mode.

Saint’s quick, economic production bolsters the drama’s higher purposes. Michael Anania’s stark white-and-black set frequently is transformed by Michael Clark’s colorfully swirling projections of universes, numbers, primates and starbursts. Scott Killian’s brisk piano and percussion music lends a dark sparkle to the show.

A promising script, “Creating Claire” needs further fleshing out to move to the next stage.

Creating Claire

George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, NJ; 365 seats; $71.50 top.

Production

A George Street Playhouse world premiere of a play in two acts by Joe DiPietro. Directed by David Saint.

Creative

Sets, Michael Anania; costumes, Michael Sharpe; lighting, Joe Saint; sound, Christopher J. Bailey; original music, Scott Killian; projections, Michael Clark; production stage manager, Thomas Clewell. Opened May 21, 2010. Reviewed May 21. Through June 6. Running time: 1 HOUR 50 MINUTES.

Cast

Abigail - Celia Keenan-Bolger Claire - Barbara Walsh Reggie - Michael Countryman Victoria - Lynn Cohen

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