Theater: Genesis Nemesis

  • Share
  • Read Later

There is a stowaway on Noah's ark: Jonah. Two By Two is a jinxed musical­ arch, vulgar, lumbering, stale. It may conceivably make scores of theater- party ticket purchasers curse their favorite charities for months to come. There is, of course, Danny Kaye as Noah, and he does everything short of scat singing a git-begat-gittle number.

God informs Noah of the flood with monstrous banality. Bursts of thunder test the capacity of the amplification system, and huge projections of film stills on the back wall of the stage feature the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (creation), paintings of fleshy Renaissance nudes (corruption), and whirling Van Gogh suns (upheavals of nature). After that, the show lasts 40 days and 40 nights, with one 15-minute intermission.

Two By Two ignores every dramatic basic. It lacks conflict. Its characters are unreal and undeveloped, and it fosters no affinity between the playgoer and the players. Noah's three sons are, respectively, a lout (Shem), a lecher (Ham) and a moral prig (Japheth). Noah straightens out their biblically unrecorded sexual hang-ups like a pre-lst century marriage counselor and spars in spurious stage-generation-gap fashion with his youngest son, who is skeptical about the Divine Establishment.

Lacking the audacity to represent a naive childlike purity of faith, and incapable of the sophisticated myth-mocking irony of an Anouilh or a Giraudoux, Peter Stone rests his book, derived from Clifford Odets' The Flowering Peach, on the pitiably thin humor of anachronism. Except for one beguiling ballad, I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You, Richard Rodgers' score is almost barren of melodic appeal, and Martin Charnin's lyrics could have been ticked off by a metronome.

That leaves Danny Kaye with rather more than he can salvage. Kaye is not naturally funny but more of a stunt-man of humor who relies on glib footwork, a glibber tongue and a foxy aptitude for facial contortions. He has had to subdue these in Two By Two and concentrate on just being liked. He works long and arduously at it, and he is liked. And pitied. At show's end he is supposed to be 601 years old, and few in the opening-night audience felt appreciably younger.