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WAGER reviews

LAWN GRIFFITHS, Religion Editor, Mesa Tribune

Mesa, AZ. -  Feb 19, 2007

 

Book of Job had tough job at Mesa Theater

 

History is full of great writers, artists, composers and brilliant creators who poured their superb talent into their work only to find the public did not discover their genius or the splendor of what they produced. Many died without due recognition only to have their works hailed by following generations. Here’s hoping Eugene D. Anderson’s work, "The Wager" gains the acknowledgement that this original musical is due.

 

The Apache Junction composer’s nine years of sweat and passion were eminently showcased in the two—act musical on the Book of Job, told in a modern setting and given its world premier on Saturday. The final of six shows in three days is this Monday night (Feb. 19) at 7 p.m. at the Ikeda Theater at the Mesa Arts Center. Anderson, 63, put nine years into writing the music and arrangements, as well as the contemporary story of the Old Testament character whose prosperity was turned into overwhelming suffering. When I interviewed Anderson Feb. 2 for an article in the Tribune’s Spiritual Life section, he exultingly hailed his work, "The Wager" as the first musical ever done on Job. He agonized that its premier was so near, so few tickets were sold and this monumental moment of his musical life would take place before limited audiences. He likened that to Job’s own suffering.

 

Alas, scarcely 300 of the 1,600 seats of Ikeda were taken Saturday night, with still fewer folks at other performances. "It is disappointing we didn’t get the attendance that we expected," said marketing coach Mike Shubic, who handled the show’s public relations. "Terrible" was his one-word description for the crowds.

 

Though Anderson has spent a half century in music, with 150 compositions published and university training in writing and arranging music, the former Apache Junction High School band director is a veritable neophyte and unknown in live musical theater. Shubic’s press kit cites Anderson as "responsible for bringing the story to the stage. Single-handedly, he developed the script, created the musical composition and score, all dialogue and even background scenery and marketing. He’s also financed the production of the musical himself."

 

Such full ownership of a production carries, perhaps, a "one-man show" onus -- a single person’s relentless, uncompromising mission to guarantee success by doing everything himself to ensure exactness and quality. "This a very rare event that a musical of this caliber and this size is produced," Shubic said. Originally tickets were set at $55 to $75, but were lowered before the opening to $35 and $55 to spur attendance. "Realistically, I don’t think the ticket prices had anything to do with" the turnout, Shubic said.

Lawn Griffiths’ Blog Post Of This Review

Grawemeyer Nomination Letter

 

To: Susan R. Garrett

The Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

 

21 November 2007

 

Prof. Garrett,

While I was a pastor in Arizona, one of my parishioners, Eugene Anderson, began writing a musical about the book of Job called ‘The Wager} I was honored to be a part of reading early versions of the script and impressed by the way he explored the human condition through this work. For these reasons and those described below, I nominate ‘The Wager’ to be considered for the 2008 Grawemeyer Award for Religion.

 

‘The Wager’ reshapes the book of Job as a modern story of a successful businessman Jonathon O. Brytson who loses almost everything because of a wager made between J., Jonathon’s mentor, and Lou, a mysterious antagonist. If J. stays out of Jonathon’s life for 30 days, will Lou be able to break his spirit so that Jonathon will curse J.? Lou indirectly causes one tragedy after another while J., is silent to Jonathon’s many attempts to communicate. Jonathon’s business colleagues advise him to forget J. and his principles. Lou tries every means to tempt and torment him into cursing J. On the thirtieth day, Jonathon is ready to end his life only to be saved by a shadowy figure. The thirty days are over, and Jonathon confronts J. for being so distant. The musical ends by revealing that J. is a symbol for God, who gave Jonathon love and inner strength to endure these trials.

 

The Grawemeyer award is interested in promoting ‘ideas that explain the relationship between divine reality and human spiritual striving’ and ‘The Wager’ is a creative expression of that relationship. This work explores the dynamic relationship of human responses to the presence and absence of God. When explaining his success to a reporter, Jonathon attributes it to the lessons he learned from J. Here he feels J.’s presence in his life, singing ‘He taught all the most important lessons of life/That character, honesty, and integrity lessen strife.’ But is divine reality experienced only when we sing ‘How Great is Life’? Lou asserts Jonathon ‘will wilt and fold up like a flower’ without J.’s explicit presence. By asking whether Jonathon will continue to trust an absent J., the musical asks how human beings continue to trust God when the divine seems remote and unreal.

 

Jonathon faces horrifying events without J.’s presence: the tragic loss of children and wife, abandonment by colleagues and the loss of his business. He faces temptations of greed, lust, doubt and even death. He sings ‘Answer me’ for every human being who has ever prayed in desperation for some help from God only to hear silence. ‘You’ve been there when I needed you/To guide and give me instruction./You’ve always had the answer to/Every challenge, every question./Now I need you more than ever/When will you call me with an answer'?/’ Divine absence is expressed powerfully when Jonathon is ready to die, singing `Where do I go from here'?’ ‘I just want to quit/And give in to

grief./Is there nothing else/To give me relief`?’ Like many others facing tremendous grief`, Jonathon does not experience divine reality and he almost stops striving. In his despair, he experiences some hope in a shadowy figure, not a dramatic intervention. Divine presence is hidden behind `The Hand of a Friend.’

 

Like its biblical model, ‘The Wager’ climaxes with divine revelation that challenges the protagonist to see a cosmic stage hidden from human view. Jonathon confronts J., angry that his mentor would abandon him. J. responds with ‘The Great Question’, challenging Jonathon to acknowledge his limited vision. Differently than the biblical Job, Jonathon is told that his faith amidst suffering is an example to future generations. “Do you wonder why/You’ve gone through all you’ve been? It’s so that all who follow you/Will Find my strength within!’ This line captures how the book of Job has given strength and faith to suffering people throughout the centuries.

 

In the end, it is not the wealth or success nor even lessons of honesty and integrity that are the most important. The finale ‘The Great I Am!’ (using the same tune as ‘How Great is Life’ from the beginning) asserts that the love of God will sustain people even when hidden. The divine reality of God’s love is constant even though sometimes experienced as absent. Human beings strive to trust that love and to live consistent with that divine reality. I am nominating ‘The Wager’ for your consideration because of the creative and thought-provoking ways that it explores these issues.

 

Please contact me if you have further questions about this nomination.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

 

Rev. Peter S. Perry

PhD candidate

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago