Atheists in paradise
"The Last Days of Madalyn Murray O'Hair in Exile" is much funnier than the real story of what happened to the founder of American Atheists when she disappeared mysteriously in the 1990s.
By JESSE SLOANE
Madalyn Murray O'Hair was a real person. She helped bring the lawsuit that removed prayer from America's public schools in 1963, and in that same year she founded the organization called American Atheists. In 1995 she vanished under mysterious circumstances along with her son, granddaughter, and $500,000 in funds withdrawn from the American Atheists organization. Six years later police found the remains of all three people in rural Texas.
In the meantime, David Foley had written a play speculating that the three had taken the money and run to an island in the South Pacific. Apparently it was decided (with good reason, I think) that audiences would have more fun watching the adventures Foley had imagined for the three than the grim Texas deaths they actually met with.
|THE LAST DAYS OF MADALYN MURRAY O'HAIR IN EXILE|
|Written by: David Foley.|
Directed by: Samuel Buggeln.
Cast: Julie McLaughlin, Arlen Dean Snyder.
34 street manhattan NY
Previews start: Feb. 13, 2003
Feb. 14 - March 9, 2003
And "The Last Days of Madalyn Murray O'Hair in Exile" certainly is a lot of fun, starting in the very first scene where Madalyn shoos the ghost of her dead father offstage with a hail of verbal abuse. Julie McLaughlin and Arlen Dean Snyder act this scene with a perfect sense of the irony of a militant atheist cursing out her whiny father for daring to return from the grave. Both of them are so believable in their absurdity that you don't think to wonder how Madalyn got a New York accent when her father talks like a Midwestern corn farmer. Such a strong beginning bodes well for the rest of the play, and the fun level does stay high to the very end.
The only serious disappointment comes with the appearance of Madalyn's born-again-Christian son Jim. Every character so far has been hilariously over-the-top, with standouts being McLaughlin as the domineering Madalyn and Ben Wang as the ingratiating island chieftain. Somehow Jim doesn't have the same level of outrageousness, even though his character is clearly meant to be one of the most outlandish. The script seems to be the problem those lines of godly ranting don't have nearly the variety you'd hear from a real born-again.
Overall, though, a very talented group of actors make this fairly amusing play into something truly funny. Even the occasional stretches of philosophical monologue in the play can be taken as a chance to ponder deeper issues or as just another joke. This is one of those rare plays that's fun to watch, but leaves heavier questions to think about if that's what you're looking for.
|FEBRUARY 19, 2003|
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