Annette O’Toole is excellent as a scholar in “The Good Book” onstage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (Courtesy Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

Berkeley Rep’s ‘Good Book’ a jam-packed look at the Bible

Three-hour play edifies, entertains

The Bible, says biblical scholar Miriam Lewis — one of the two main characters whose bumpy interior journeys we follow in “The Good Book” — is dangerous, so we better learn about it.

If it is indeed dangerous it’s hard to ferret out exactly how so, amid the dense, intellectually challenging material that comprises this (overlong) three-hour play, a collaboration between acclaimed actor Denis O’Hare and Berkeley Repertory Theatre associate director Lisa Peterson. (The pair’s work was last seen here at Berkeley Rep in their adaptation “An Iliad.”)

Funny, at times electrifying and always edifying (if also overstuffed with TMI), “The Good Book” is more entertaining than you might imagine. And the acting (by a multicultural seven-member cast that includes some locals), Peterson’s direction and the design (Rachel Hauck’s set; Mark Bennett’s sound), are all terrific.

After a didactic and disorienting prologue, two main, and unrelated, characters emerge, both of whom turn out to be deeply engaging.

There’s “Biblehead” Connor (played with great simplicity and sensitivity by Keith Nobbs), a highly imaginative, lonely gay kid who wants to be a priest and who, as he gets older (we follow him into adulthood), begins to feel that God hates him. “I’m a sinner,” he moans.

And there’s brilliant Miriam (the wonderful Annette O’Toole), an angry “new atheist in love with the Bible,” especially its poetry; she says she studies the Good Book to learn about herself. But when her long-distance soul-mate (Elijah Alexander, finessing multiple roles) suddenly confesses he’s become a Christian, her world implodes.

Through Miriam’s lectures to her college classes, and other theatrical devices, including hilarious biblical reenactments (and appearances by everyone from King Solomon to the Scottish King James of motel-room Bible fame, who materialize in Connor’s bedroom), we get a crash course on how the Bible has been written and rewritten over the centuries by various people, including hordes of hard-working, nameless scribes.

We also get a smattering of ancient history, some pointers on the differences between the two testaments and much more.

Whether you’re a devout believer (like the fictional Connor), a confident atheist (as O’Hare is) or somewhere in between (or if, as one of the characters accuses Miriam, you’re jealous of the believers), it’s likely that you’ll find yourself thinking, amid the laughter and brain overload, about your own inevitable death.

Dangerous or not, it turns out the Bible is a fine, if somewhat overly ambitious, subject for the stage.

REVIEW

The Good Book

Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Where: Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays and Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes June 9

Tickets: $30 to $97

Contact: (510) 647–2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

Theater

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

DA Boudin to stop charging for contraband at traffic stops, gang enhancements

District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced policy changes Friday aimed at reducing racial… Continue reading

New case of coronavirus reported in Santa Clara County

Infection second this week in Bay Area not linked to travel

City Attorney targets permit expediter, developers in new round of subpoenas

San Francisco’s corruption scandal is the dumpster fire that keeps on giving… Continue reading

SF to introduce legislation authorizing safe injection sites

Mayor Breed and Supervisor Haney join forces to create regulations, permit process for nonprofits

Most Read