Darwin in Malibu

By staff May 17, 2007





The Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Darwin in Malibu raises more questions than it answers.


By Kay Kipling


There’s something intriguingly odd about the concept of Crispin Whittell’s Darwin in Malibu, now showing in an Asolo Repertory Theatre production at the Cook Theatre.


The play places The Origin of Species author Charles Darwin in a Malibu beach house some 120 years after his death, where he’s visited by two of his own contemporaries from the great debates about evolution that followed the publication of his landmark book. They’re all a bit thrown by the new world they’ve entered—one of banana smoothies, trashy novels and newspaper horoscopes—but these modern distractions add fuel to the fire of their discussions about religion, heaven, God and the own personal losses they’ve suffered.

Stephen Temperley, David Breitbarth and Douglas Jones in the Asolo Rep’s Darwin in Malibu.


Where is this new world, really? Are they in the afterlife itself? Or are they, as one of the visitors, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (Douglas Jones), proposes, in Purgatory? He’s convinced that they are, and that it’s his duty to save Darwin’s soul and get them all—his opponent, evolution proponent Thomas Huxley, included—to heaven.


The setup makes for some good sound bites, as when Darwin (Stephen Temperley) utters the line, “Who needs evolution when you have plastic surgery?” or when Huxley (David Breitbarth), comparing the progress of religion in the last 2,000 years to other fields, remarks, “The more we know, the less God is the answer.” And the interaction of the three men, along with the young woman who also lives at the beach house (Leigh Anne Wolf), is often engaging and thought-provoking.


But it also bogs down at times under the weight of too much talk. As Darwin says to Huxley about his spirited but windy defense of his theories in an Oxford showdown, “You went on.” Somewhere in the middle of Act II, there’s a definite feeling that the play “went on.”


But there are those enjoyable moments, all enacted on an absolute treat of a beachy set designed by Jeff Dean, accompanied by appropriate sound effects of waves and wheeling birds. In the end, Darwin in Malibu, understandably perhaps, raises more questions than it answers about the great mysteries of existence, seeming to boil it all down in the end to a “We’re here, let’s just enjoy it while it lasts” attitude toward life. Not exactly earthshaking, compared to Darwin’s own work, but acceptable enough.


Darwin in Malibu runs through June 10; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to
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