George Bernard Shaw’s views on religion may be summarized by his statement, “People believe anything that amuses them, gratifies them, or promises some sort of profit.”
He showcased his anti-organized religion and doubt of God in his The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God, a novella he wrote after returning from five weeks in Africa in the winter of 1932. He imagined a young black girl roaming the “darkest of Africa” in search of God. It was intended to be read, not staged. Some would call it a “closet drama.” But, in production it is, as part of the Shaw Festival’s lunch-time theater, in an adaptation for the stage by Lisa Codrington.
It basically tells the tale of an African girl who has been abandoned by her missionary for asking too many questions. Questions about God, religion and philosophy that the missionary couldn’t answer. The Black Girl sets out on her own mission to find God, since she has been taught, “Seek and you shall find me,” which she takes to mean, “seek out and actually speak to God.”
Unfortunately, she is confronted by want-to-be gods, pseudo-gods and false prophets. Eventually we, like the Black Girl, come to the conclusion that, “There are a lot of old men pretending to be gods in this forest [the world].”
When Shaw published Black Girl in 1932, it was so controversial that, probably much to his delight, he was decried as a “blasphemer.”
Black Girl was published with a companion essay that disclaimed the supernatural origin of the Bible, a book without divine authority. He did admit that he viewed the Bible as important for its ethical messages and valuable as history.
There have been a number of responses to the work, including The Adventures of the Brown Girl (companion to the Black girl of Mr. Bernard Shaw) in her Search for God (1933), The Adventures of Gabriel in his Search for Mr. Shaw (1933), The Adventures of the White Girl in Search for Knowledge (1934), and The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for Mr. Shaw (1934).
In the Shaw essay, which becomes a play, the Black Girl meets a vengeful deity of the early books of the Bible, a philosophical version as exposed in the Book of Job, and two versions of Jesus…a kindly but ineffective young man and another posing for an artist who is depicting him on the cross.
She also meets an atheist-behaviorist, and others who explain that the speculations about God are passé. She finally is confronted by an elderly man who persuades her to abandon her quest and settle down “with a red-haired Irishman and rear a charmingly coffee-colored family.” (Note: at one point in his writing career, Shaw started a general furor by proposing intermarriage between blacks and whites as a solution to racial problems in South Africa.)
The a-little-less-than-one-hour staging is illuminating, delightful and was the recipient of a long, standing ovation.
Natasha Mumba (Black Girl) displayed a fine sense of comic timing as she fully textured her presentation, clearly becoming the protagonist.
The rest of cast, Guy Bannerman, Tara Rosling, Ben Sanders, Kiera Sangster, André Sills, Graeme Somverville and Jonathan Tan were up to the comic challenges of the show.
Ravi Jain’s creative directing and staging sharpened Shaw’s attacks to the delight of the audience. Camellia Koo’s design was creative and definitely added to the over-all effect.
Capsule judgment: The commentary, The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God, is one of the most compelling hour productions that has been staged at The Shaw. Ravi Jain’s direction and Natasha Mumba’s performance make this a must see production. Bravo!
The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God is presented in the Court House Theatre, through September 11 at The Shaw Festival and is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries. The Shaw has been dubbed “One of the great repertory theaters in the English-speaking world.”
For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.