On March 22, a new play celebrating Charles Darwin’s impact debuted at the Bethesda Theatre in Maryland. Performed by the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT, From Orchids to Octopi: An Evolutionary Love Story was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health as part of Evolution Revolution, a celebration of Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.
The play follows Emma, a young artist, and her husband, Charles, who unexpectedly become pregnant. As the couple struggles to balance their personal and professional lives, Emma paints a mural depicting the evolutionary story of life. Throughout her pregnancy, she experiences hallucinations that include Darwin, a Tyrannosaurus, Tiktaalik, a two-headed cow and an anthropomorphic version of tuberculosis.
The playwright, Melinda Lopez, covers a large number of evolutionary topics in a scientifically accurate and interesting way. For example, the two-headed cow teaches Emma and the audience about the differences between developmental abnormalities and genetic changes that can be inherited. The cow goes on to discuss the ability to digest lactose in European and some African populations.
Later, tuberculosis, an actor in a red-stained butcher’s apron, tells Emma that evolution is also responsible for drug-resistant diseases, including AIDS and malaria.
The play and Catalyst, a collaboration between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Underground Railway theater, aim to expand public understanding of science through the theater, says a description on the play’s Web site.
After its final performance in Bethesda on March 23, the play will run from March 31 to May 2 in Cambridge, Mass., before touring the country.