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More Life

Monday, April 5, 2010 Leave a Comment

(This post contains some small spoilers for our upcoming production of Jacob's House).

One of the central themes of Jacob's House is Harold Bloom's translation of "more life" for the Hebraic concept of "blessing". Like Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Jacob's House also looks at the enigmatic sequence of Jacob wrestling the angel, asking "what would you do for more life"?

In this play, More Life is meant both literally and figuratively. Literally, the characters who inherit the blessing, Isaac and then Jacob, have extended life spans, living two to three times the normal amount. This blessing of long life also passes on to those closest to them, those who are marked by love and belong to them.

More Life also means the quality of life, a certain vitality and intensity of experience the blessing gives. Finally, it connects with the rich Hebraic notion of the Book of Life, with its questions of extinction, eternity, righteousness, and creation as an act of writing and erasure.

This particular vision of the blessing is both tribal and amoral; it is not wholly a question of right or wrong, but hungry or full; and in the pursuit of this blessing for yourself and loved ones, much is permissible. In this sense, the quest for More Life is a distinctly American one, and in Jacob's House, the Old Testament life spans of the characters stretch out over (and mirror) the full course of America's Manifest Destiny.

The play explores the cost of winning and keeping this particular incarnation of the blessing. How much struggle and pain is it worth to win More Life? What is the cost of taking and living it? You'll see this question answered by our Jacob's House and ForePlay - Divine Reckonings artists in their interviews, and their answers thus far have been fascinating.

These are deeply personal questions for me as someone who has always been death haunted. Almost every day I experience the vertigo of mortality, that black wave breaking over me. And so with our process of Jacob's House dominating my thought, I was thrilled to listen to this interview between neuroscientist David Eagleman and novelist Will Self. Please listen to it - though over an hour long, it is a funny, moving, and fascinating dialogue between two men wrestling with life and after-life.

Self's comic morbidity is contrasted by Eagleman's optimistic curiosity. Both marvel at a world that knows it will die, but acts as though it will live forever. They examine various possibilities for what an after-life might be like; they look at the cost of various incarnations of eternal life in the here and now.

In one of the most moving passages, Self promises Eagleman that his hopefulness will change when the younger man experiences the midlife crisis of mortality (ha, midlife!) The neuroscientist responds that his optimism is based in how little we know about the mystery of life; and imagines an aborigine with no knowledge of radio waves finding a radio, listening to it, tearing out the insides, and determining logically that the sound must have come from within the radio, because it ceases when the machine is broken.

Our machine will break; whether our tune still plays in the air or ends when the gears are out, I don't know. But in Jacob's House, three children deal with the legacy of a father who perpetuated that machine at almost any cost. I hope you will join us as we wrestle with the angel of More Life.

Tickets are on sale now; and as of today, there are still $10 tix available for opening weekend with the code "ELOHIM".