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Abraham Telling (Bible) Stories to Isaac

Genesis Music and Miracles From the Medieval Mystery Plays. Book and lyrics by A.J. Antoon and Robert Montgomery. Music by Michael Ward. Directed by Mr. Antoon. Choreography by Lynne Taylor-Corbett. ACCORDING to ``The Oxford Companion to the Theatre,'' substantial cycles of medieval religious plays, based on the Bible, have survived from Chester, Coventry, Lincoln, Wakefield, and York.

Such plays have inspired the ``modern adaptation'' presented recently for a brief run at the Public/LuEsther Theater. Entitled, ``Genesis: Music and Miracles From the Medieval Mystery Plays,'' the adaptation was written by A.J. Antoon and Robert Montgomery (book and lyrics) and Michael Ward (music).

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The adapters place ``Genesis'' in the context of stories told by ancient Abraham (Stephen Bogardus), a patriarch for all ages, to his small son Isaac (Braden Danner).

Creation and the thunderous fall of Lucifer (Russ Thacker) from heaven is followed in short order by human creation and the fall of Adam and Eve (Mr. Bogardus and Mary Munger). (Throughout the cycle, Mr. Thacker reappears as the satanic tempter in a series of disguises.)

A sneering, coarse-mouthed Cain (David Patrick Kelly) quarrels with and slays his gentle brother Abel (Bill Christopher-Myers). In one of the production's liveliest sequences, Noah (Mr. Bogardus) challenges scoffers and his shrewishly stubborn wife (Miss Munger) to build the ark and set sail for survival. The assembling of the prefabricated vessel and the loading of the animals has been amusingly choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett. Thereafter, the spectacle of a tiny, tempest-tossed ark holding its course amid the billows is one of the better illusions created by designer John Conklin (scenery and costumes) and Jan Kroeze (lighting).

``Genesis'' returns at last to Abraham and Isaac and the patriarch's climactic rejection of human sacrifice. The adaptation ends on a note of hope, if not triumph, as a human procession moves forward on what Antoon and Montgomery call ``a journey from childhood to old age, through landscapes that evolve from the beginning of time to the threshold of our own century.''

With its simple, rhyming text and conductor-keyboardist Michael Ward's strongly rhythmic score, ``Genesis'' held generally true to its inspiration. The prevailing tone mingled naivet'e and latter-day sophistication. God, for instance, was given both a masculine and feminine offstage voice.

Under Mr. Antoon's direction, the concept was grasped by the large and versatile cast, most of whose members played more than one role. Mr. Conklin's costumes, from Biblical to latter-day, made a strong contribution to the visual imagery.

The collaborative cycle ran for slightly more than 90 minutes and was performed without intermission.

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