"Mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind." - flannery o'connor
Evolution is the story of Minnie, Pammy, and Mother, a family coping with the baffling changes brought on by a mysterious illness, the estrangement of two siblings, and a mother's desperately hilarious attempts to protect her children. As each struggles with the impending transformation, the history of whale evolution, as well as objects from the past and the memories they evoke, act as catalysts for the four characters in this solo play that asks the question: How should we respond to change? Evolution takes the audience on a journey where past, present, and future exist in the same time and space.
The mystery of whales, with their unusual ability to live and breathe air while living in water, has been a fascinating subject of creation myths about transformation since ancient times. An Inuit tale posits that whales are born from a human girl who was thrown into the sea by her father for being terribly disobedient. When she tried to climb back into his boat, he chopped off her fingers, one by one, and each of her severed fingers turned into a different marine mammal: a right whale, a narwhal, a beluga, a seal, and so forth.
The attempts of science to understand the wayward trajectory of Nature can seem no less fantastical. Darwin suggested in 1859 that whales arose from bears, sketching a scenario in which selective pressures might cause bears to evolve into whales; embarrassed by criticism of his idea, Darwin removed his hypothetical swimming bears from later editions of On the Origin of the Species.*
Even as 20th and 21st century scientists piece together the fossil record of whales, the idea that a creature could evolve out of the sea only to return, sounded to some like a ridiculous fiction. Perhaps this is because the idea that a species would adapt by returning to a more primal environment seems “backward” and counter to the notion that evolution means continually changing into something better. The idea of constant improvement answers our need to make sense of our world. Nature, it seems, needs only to do what works.
*Stephen Jay Gould, "Hooking Levianthan By Its Past" from Dinosaur In A Haystack (1995).