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Book of Exodus

W.C. Fields once famously posited that one should never work with children or animals. However, ask Aaron Orzech, the co-creator of Fraught Outfit’s Book of Exodus, and you’ll hear a very different story. The final theatrical installment of a trilogy that began back in 2013, this bold interpretation of the Old Testament story finds a cast of children taking to the stage for a two-part foray into violence, identity, memory and faith. But lest their age confuse you, this is one tale not aimed at children.

“One of the problems we come up against reading the text is simply the notion that God sends down these plagues as a form of punishment, and half the people are afflicted and half are saved," Orzech explains. "That’s a very disturbing idea, really. This arbitrary violence. We tend to make theatre that’s very image based. The way we work is really about taking the image of, say, God speaking to Moses through a burning bush. That’s a kind of a miraculous, baffling, violent, and overwhelming image. There’s a whole set of power relationships and notions about role-playing, about giving a message to transmit.
 
"The notion of the children of Israel, as they are named in the text – which, as a side note, Israel doesn’t mean the country of modern Israel. In the biblical text, it means the children of Jacob. We thought, 'What if in our theatrical version, we take that very literally and the children are actually children?' What does it mean for a child to see this burning bush – to be told by a voice that they have to do certain things or that they have a certain message that they have to pass. That’s certainly one idea. There’s also the rich language of the text. The murderous specificity of the plagues and their visceral nature.”
 
Orzech discusses the two parts of Book of Exodus as a theatrical diptych – complimentary impressions of a shared theme. It’s not necessary to have caught the preceding installments (On The Bodily Education of Young Girls, and in 2015, The Bacchae), as the production is very much a stand-alone piece. It also sounds like a rather dark enterprise, and while it’s something neither he nor director Adena Jacobs have shied away from, the presence of such a young cast has ensured it isn’t all doom and gloom.
 
“I think they are dark pieces," says Orzech. "Often Adena and I are attracted to the darker aspects in the work, and when you’re working with young people inevitably you’ll come up against [their] joie de vivre, and you suddenly remember that it can’t all be dark. One of the joys for us is watching these children experience ideas or feelings, or even just objects in the space for the first time. The work is very much informed by their minds and their responses.
 
"It’s worth pointing out that we’re not making work for children here. We very much work with the philosophy that kids and teenagers can make amazing theatre about things other than being a kid or teenager. We’ve seen from other shows that [adults] can get quite emotional, as though they’re seeing the child-version of themselves, or are reminded of something of their childhood. I think sometimes people find it quite disturbing as well.
 
"One of the interesting things about the Biblical text is that it’s dark on such a macro level, in this historical and political way, where you see God killing all of the first born sons. That’s obviously a rather horrific idea, but it’s also dark in a psychological way. The notion of the parent, or God, who both rewards and punishes his children, I think there’s definitely a darkness to that. There’s real psychological insight in those texts, even though they’re written as religious parables.”
 
By Adam Norris

Book of Exodus - Part I runs from Wednesday May 31 – Sunday June 18 before being followed up by Book of Exodus - Part II from Wednesday October 18 – Sunday October 29 at Theatreworks.