Adam and Steve. It's almost a slip of the tongue. Two extra letters, and one story falls off its hook and into pieces; another sweeps up the shards and twists them into something entirely fresh-faced and new.
Out of the multicolored smattering of thoughts and images that flare upon hearing the driving conceit of Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told — that God is not a clock-maker but a stage manager who made Adam and Steve, Jane and Mabel, in His image, and as gay as gay can be — there's one that makes a fuss of itself: that the whole idea seems almost impossibly easy and flat.
In any other playwright's hands, that might be true. But in Rudnick's hands, it's not.
"We tend to think as a dominant culture, our stories are relevant — that everyone should be able to relate to them all the time," says Alysabeth Clements Mosley, artistic director for Star Bar Players. "But there are things said by dominant culture that don't ring the same with someone who is outside of it."
Star Bar opens the critically acclaimed and alternately raunchy, raucous and sincere story of creation this week. And even though the work ripples with the sardonic, and its pulse is derisive and hems on a beat of one-liners and off-the-cuff humor, it refuses to bend to that most tempting of temptations: to poke fun because there is a target at which to aim.
What sets it apart is that implicitly posed in the humor, the dryness and raging flamboyance, set off by effete pharaohs and slaves and a Nativity scene that, as a New York Times review put it, "is definitely not for the protesters of Corpus Christi," are questions.
As the play moves from the first act to the second act and the time shifts to the present, and someone contracts HIV and another is on the verge of giving birth, these questions — of the nature of God and of happiness — retain both an element of humor, and a quest for meaning and context.
"The first half is so dear because they're so confused, and it's funny because they're just, 'Good Lord, what's going on here?' and they want to know if there's God," says Clements Mosley. "The second act is more modern. And they become more like us and more cynical. But in the end, that sweetness comes back again."
What makes the whole thing go down so well — the laughs, the lessons, the radical retelling of a story that seems an unlikely target for such an improbable spin — is that so much of the subject matter revolves around universal themes, many of which remind us of how assailable we are.
When interviewed by Charlie Rose a few months after the play's 1998 opening, Rudnick said of the work: "Religion is humanity at its most fervent and its most impassioned and its most sincere, and that makes for rich comic territory because people are very exposed. They're very vulnerable. ... It's human beings choosing to believe or choosing not to believe. And these are questions that, you know, whatever your religious position, you have to make up your mind."
And even though it's unlikely you'll unearth the answers during the production, it's good to remember those questions are out there. Lord knows, especially in this season, that the questions are just as important as the answers.