Marriage is challenging; a marriage between two people whose belief systems are fundamentally different might be doomed. Yet Charles Darwin and his wife Emma managed to overcome vast differences in their approach to faith to create a nurturing relationship that saw them through professional tests and personal tragedy. Sara Gmitter’s script is a loving look at a man who was unafraid to examine the world, and a woman who was patient enough to support any path he took, however unconventional.
Darwin (Andrew White) returns from his five-year voyage on the Beagle to continue to build his reputation as a naturalist and marry his fervently Christian cousin Emma (Rebecca Spence). Darwin is aware his agnosticism may cause problems, yet both agree to move forward. Gmitter examines this essential difference from many angles: its impact on Darwin’s professional life, the effect on his children and the attitudes of his extended family. Through all of the controversy, Gmitter demonstrates the couples’ love and respect that enables them to support each other during personal triumph and devastation.
White brings an everyman quality to Darwin and enables us to see how the naturalist made the necessary connections in his pioneering work. Darwin was, at his most basic, a man who knew how to observe and question. Spence invests her character with enough charm, personality and intelligence to explain why she would catch Darwin’s eye and keep it. She also serves as a patient counterpoint to Darwin’s beyond-his-time visions; through her thought processes, we can see why Darwin’s work might terrify the average person. White and Spence are supported by the multicast Cindy Gold and Austin Tichenor, who have all the fun.
Director Jessica Thebus successfully choreographs the piece’s comic physicality to give it a healthy tonal variety. Collette Pollard’s set brings a flowering forest into Darwin’s home, reminding us that we can never completely separate the natural world from civilization; our origins are all around us. (Lisa Buscani)
Lookingglass Theatre, 821 North Michigan, $45-$70, lookingglasstheatre.org, (312)337 -0665. Through June 15.