Our entry in the “romantic comedy” category, in honor of February, is a pair of short plays which designed to both entertain and inspire. Ruth2 is two one-act adaptations of the story found in the Hebrew scriptures, of a foreign woman who marries into the ancestral line of King David.
In The Redemption of Ruth, we meet Naomi, a bitter Israeli widow living in exile in Moab. After losing her husband and both adult sons (we are not told how any of them die), she decides to go back to her husband’s home in Bethlehem. She tells her widowed daughters-in-law to go back to their own families. One of them does, but the other, Ruth, refuses to abandon her mother-in-law.
They journey back to Israel, and Ruth has to seek a way for them to survive. She goes to “glean” (gather the bits of harvest left at the edges of the fields), and happens to work on land belonging to Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman. According to Hebrew custom, the kinsman-redeemer is the next of kin and has the right to purchase land from a widow–and marry ber, in order to provide a son to keep the family line going. Naomi hatches a plot to get Boaz to notice Ruth. Eventually, everything works out, Boaz and Ruth marry, and they have a son, Obed. We’re told that Obed is the father of Jesse, who is the father of King David.
My Name is Ruth opens in Minnesota, where we meet Ruth as her husband is going off to WWII. After his death, she follows her mother-in-law back to the big city where Naomi was married. Ruth, seeking work, goes to Field’s Department Store, and meets the owner, Boaz. Things progress pretty much as you’d expect, with lots of gentle humor and a happy ending for all.
Two very different styles of literature; two very different stagings
The Redemption of Ruth is actually a blank verse poem, and is one of the oldest pieces in afO’s repertoire. Lauren Nichols wrote it during the time when afO was being birthed, and the play was premiered in February of 1993, and was a popular part of the company’s touring years. It was staged most recently in 2011, when this pair of plays was performed together for the first time.
While historically this piece has been performed as a staged reading, with no set and minimal blocking, the current production is presented in a somewhat more conventional manner. The actors have memorized their lines and move about the stage. The set, costumes and movement are still somewhat stylized and spare, reflecting the nature of poetry: dense imagery packed into few words.
This is a three-character play, featuring Jen Netting as Naomi, Gabe Schneider, and Ruth Mussmann as Ruth.
My Name is Ruth was written by Stephen Baldwin of 34 West, a small company which twice performed as guest artists as part of afO’s season. Stephen mentioned his new play about the book of Ruth, scripts were exchanged, and afO received permission to mount a production which would feature both Nichols’ and Baldwin’s scripts.
This clever comedy is fast-paced, but is still a three-character play. Naomi is an offstage presence whom Ruth shouts at, though we never hear her voice. In addition to the roles of Boaz and Ruth, a third actor plays Ruth’s first husband, a news reporter, and KR (the kinsman-redeemer with first dibs on Naomi’s estate–in this version, he is the villain of the piece).
The cast of My Name is Ruth includes Eric Black as KR, Anna Macke as Ruth, and Michael Wilhelm as Boaz.