This past Sunday, Dec. 6, Theater of War Productions showcased a dramatic reading of Book of Job, its second performance since the beginning of the company’s virtual residency at Kenyon. The reading featured a range of experience, from the esteemed star of films such as “Groundhog Day” and “Ghostbusters” Bill Murray to the Mount Vernon Mayor Matthew Starr, for a reading of the ancient Hebrew text to an online audience of people around the world.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Theater of War Productions held in-person readings which were followed by discussions with audience members about the show and its implications. This past fall, Theater of War established its virtual residency at Kenyon. The first performance, Antigone in Ferguson, introduced Kenyon and the surrounding community to the discourse Theater of War facilitates regarding social justice issues and other important topics.
This performance is part of The Book of Job Project, an effort by Theater of War Productions to put on dramatic readings of the Book of Job to initiate conversations about hardship. This project’s readings have been presented at various times of despair: from New York City after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, to Fukushima, Japan after the nuclear disaster, and to Pascagoula, Miss. on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This work is especially relevant given the incredible loss that people have experienced as a result of COVID-19.
In the ancient work, within the span of a day, everything is taken away from the protagonist, Job, as a test from God. After pleading to him profusely, God finally responds to Job, reprimanding him for questioning his acts, and finally returns all of Job’s belongings.
The Book of Job is already an especially moving piece, but the discussion that followed Sunday’s performance made its message much more relevant. First, a panel of five Knox County and Columbus residents held a conversation, led by the Artistic Director of Theater of War Productions Bryan Doerries ’98.
“It’s tough to wake up and see the negative news and see the cases go higher and higher. It’s just tough,” said panelist Russ Mentzer, who owns a Domino’s Pizza in Mount Vernon. “But, seeing this program today, knowing God’s bigger than this and you’ve just got to keep faith — and, like Job said, we’re dust. We are dirt.”
To get a variety of perspectives, Theater of War Productions and Kenyon faculty invited people of several religions to speak on the panel, including Farooq Wirk from the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Hilliard, and Greta Cornell, a member of Harcourt Parish. “The objective of our project isn’t that everyone agrees, or even that we affix meaning to the story,” Doerries said in an interview with the Collegian. “It’s really honoring the infinite possibilities of interpretation.”
Theater of War Productions’ virtual residency at Kenyon is an opportunity for students to engage with the community through theater. “I just can’t imagine a more important thing for people of privilege and means by virtue of just their education, no matter where they come from, to be doing than trying to reach out and engage with people who don’t share their positions,” said Doerries.
The conversations will continue in a workshop for students and in a working group of both members of Knox County and Kenyon students, coupled with a final performance next semester.