nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
August 11, 2007
There are many examples of strong female leaders throughout history who have had their accomplishments downplayed, edited, or just plain erased. Women in the Bible are no exception. Lately Mary Magdalene has gotten a lot of attention with the help of popular pieces like the novel and film The Da Vinci Code, but there are many others whose actions were pivotal to major historic events. Miriam is a name that sounds familiar, but I don't think that most folks would be able to give many details about her if pressed.
In this one person show, we are introduced to the spirit and voice of Miriam, a strong Jewish woman portrayed in the Bible as a prophetess and the sister of Moses. Here, she is presented to us in the form of a life-sized upper torso puppet, built and brought to life by playwright-performer-puppeteer Diane Allison. For 35 minutes, Allison and Miriam laugh, cry, and dance around an empty stage while conversing and sharing some of the major events in Miriam's life.
We see her as the young sister of Moses who watches her brother float down the river in the basket in which their mother places him, in a desperate attempt to save him after the Pharaoh issues the genocidal decree to kill all the Jewish boys. We hear her terror and then delight as her brother is found by none other than the Pharaoh's own daughter who, as the story goes, raises the infant as her own. When the Pharaoh's daughter draws Moses out of the water, the child Miriam runs forward to offer Yocheved (his actual mother) as a wet nurse. Pretty brave for a little girl.
A full grown Miriam leads the women of Israel in a song and dance of celebration after the Pharaoh's men are drowned in the well known parting and reuniting of the sea. According to tradition, because of Miriam's righteousness, a well followed the people through the desert throughout their wanderings, and that well remained with them until the day of Miriam's death.
Like her brothers, Miriam is not perfect. She displays a jealously of her brother, noting that he has no monopoly on Divine Communication. She then leads her brother Aaron to speak against Moses when he marries an Egyptian woman. According to the Bible, Miriam is punished with leprosy that later is healed by the prayers of her brothers. In a refreshing twist, at the end of this piece, Miriam has a revelation that the leprosy was not a punishment from God, but merely a revealing of her own hates and prejudices in physical form. Like her brothers, Miriam died in the desert before the people reached the Promised Land.
Allison's tenderness toward the heroine of this story and her life is obvious throughout the piece, which is well directed by Kathryn Marie Bild, and the puppet itself is a work of art.