Think Godspell, then think Old Testament, along with totally local; but don’t think church service. Voila, you then have Above the Sun, originally written by Amarilloan Heidi Stricker, with lyrics by Dean and Stacey Yates and performed by “Merely Players,” Panhandle people all.
The playwright’s self-imposed brief, was to humanize the characters of the Old Testament, or, in her words, “It is when we hear the prayers of these people that we realize they ask the same questions and feel the same emotions we do.”
And, to reference our Protestant Sunday-school inculcating, the themes of the Man and God dialogue are three-fold. First, God, You’re Great! Second, “If You’re Omnipotent, why does life dump on me?” Then, conversely, “You can deal with it – think big picture!”
The challenge for Merely Players, a group of avid stage aficionados who perform one or two plays a year, was eliciting dramatic feeling from protracted passages taken from earlier biblical versions. Even though the language is often archaic, the cast performed admirably, especially as some of the monologues are protracted and require no little thespian talent for delivery.
The narrative is pushed by Wisdom, who, in this performance was superbly played by understudy Stacey Yates. Ensuing selections, all thematically consistent, might be drawn from just one passage, or, in the case of Cry Aloud to the Lord of Hosts, from eleven different Old Testament books.
The play pops when song elaborates the spoken word. Two numbers merit mention. A Prayer of Habakkuk was sung by a finger-snapping Blues Brothers-type trio whose dark glasses and straw fedoras amplified the message: “I’ll rejoice in the Lord!”
In A Capable Wife, female cast members dressed a mannequin in a layered ensemble. This scene and song showed a nice piece of directional artistry and, most definitely, the magic of a woman’s touch.
This play, like Godspell, appeals to both the spiritual and the secular and deserves wider currency. And, the fact that it is purely Panhandle in creation and production ought to provide greater purchase in staging decisions.
A theatre-hungry audience, who also see this play as a teaser for the opening of the arts season in a couple of months, says “Thank you!” to Merely Players and Amarillo College for whetting our appetites for the nearly forty plays staged from September through May.
And from Above the Sun, to all of the creativity that exists under the Panhandle sun, we say: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”