Unpublished letters brought to life as Darwin takes to the stage
Letters telling the story of how the God-fearing Harvard botanist Asa Gray became Charles Darwin's greatest champion in the United States are being brought to the stage for the first time. A new play, tracing how Darwin developed and then fought to justify his revolutionary theory of natural selection, will arrive in the US this February. Performances are scheduled for Boston and Gray's own home town of Cambridge, MA th which now houses the archive of his papers th starting on February 13.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Letters telling the story of how the God-fearing Harvard botanist Asa Gray became Charles Darwin's greatest champion in the United States are being brought to the stage for the first time.
A new play, tracing how Darwin developed and then fought to justify his revolutionary theory of natural selection, will arrive in the US this February. Performances are scheduled for Boston and Gray's own home town of Cambridge, MA – which now houses the archive of his papers – starting on February 13.
Entitled Re:Design and commissioned by the Darwin Correspondence Project at Darwin's own alma mater, Cambridge University in the UK, the play uses Darwin's original letters to bring the influential naturalist to life. Many, including 130 of those exchanged with Gray, have never been published before.
Darwin's correspondence with Gray, a devout Presbyterian who nevertheless upheld his friend's theories amid a furious debate in the United States, is at the heart of the production.
Audiences will enter the minds and worlds of the two men as they debate the great issues of science and religion, and as Gray struggles to reconcile his orthodox Christian beliefs with Darwin's emerging theory of evolution by natural selection. The play starts as Darwin is beginning to develop his theory and follows the story as he writes and publishes On The Origin Of Species, prompting a delighted reaction from some quarters and incandescent fury from others.
In one letter, Darwin tells Gray: “An innocent and good man stands under a tree and is killed by a flash of lightning. Do you believe that God designedly killed this man? Many or most persons do believe this. I can't and don't.”
Gray responds: “You reject the idea of design, while all the while bringing out the nearest illustrations of it!” Darwin, who was rather self-conscious about his large nose retorts: “Will you honestly tell me that the shape of my nose was ordained and guided by an intelligent cause?”
There are plenty of personal touches, too. The two men discuss the American Civil War, slavery, family incidents and even how to annoy their wives by beating them at backgammon. We also see Darwin's grief when his baby son dies of scarlet fever in 1858.
Dr Alison Pearn, Assistant Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project at Cambridge University Library, said: “This is a chance to see Darwin as never before; as a human being rather than an icon, and is powerful stuff. The drama uses only Darwin's own words and those of his correspondents and has been drawn in its entirety from his letters and reminiscences.”
Re:Design was written by Craig Baxter, who has also written several productions for BBC Radio in the UK. It is directed by Paul Bourne and performed by the Menagerie theatre company, which is based in the East of England.
The play was commissioned as part of a wider project which also includes a new web resource on Darwin's complex and often troubled relationship with religion. This features all of his letters up to 1865 – some 5,000 in all – including the correspondence he dispatched during his life-changing voyage aboard HMS Beagle.
Both the play and the web resource have been funded by the John Templeton Foundation, which supports research into and the study of science and religion. The website is intended for use by both scholars and the general public, and focuses on those elements of the letters archive that tell us about Darwin's religious beliefs or the impact of his theories in a world where many considered them heretical.
“There is a lot of misinformation on the web regarding Darwin and how far his views conflicted with religious beliefs,” Dr Pearn said. “These include all sorts of misquotes, or quotes that have been taken out of context. We hope to make his true position, in his own words, available to as many people as possible and in as many ways as we can.”
Dr Paul White of the Darwin Correspondence Project added: “The letters reveal that debate over design engaged a wide range of participants, from scientists and theologians to students and women writers, and in a manner that was both frank and respectful of fundamental differences in religious belief. In contrast to much of the current debate, Darwin and his circle of correspondents seem more tolerant and more humble.”
Visitors to the website can download the entire script of Re:Design, compare it with the original letters and listen to or watch interviews with scientists, theologians and scholars talking about the impact of the question of “design” and selection in nature.
The performance programme is:
Monday 11th: Cornell University, Ithaca. Uris Hall Auditorium, 7.00pm. Contact Blaine Friedlander ( 607 ) 254-8093 firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets.
Wednesday 13th: Performance for Cambridge University alumni and guests. See http://www.cantab.org/ or contact Eliza Mitchell at ( 212 ) 984-0975, email@example.com with subject "Darwin"
Friday 15th in association with the American Association for the Advancement of Science: Hilton, Boston Back Bay, 8.00pm. AAAS Meetings group: ( 202 ) 326-6450 firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for Editors:
Interviews with Dr Alison Pearn from the Darwin Correspondence Project, who will be visiting the US with the production team, can be arranged. Craig Baxter and members of the cast will also be available for interview.
For more information, contact:
Tom Kirk, Communications Office, University of Cambridge, Tel: +44 ( 0 )1223 332300, mobile +44 ( 0 )7917 535815, Email: email@example.com
This story was released on 2008-02-06. Please make sure to visit the official company or organization web site to learn more about the original release date. See our disclaimer for additional information.