Bill Cosby once did a famous comedy routine that envisioned a cranky Noah whose neighbor complains that the ark is blocking his driveway. The new Off-Broadway musical "The Ark" takes a less subversive - and, ultimately, much less successful - approach to the story, combining feeble attempts at such anachronisms with feel-good sentimentality.
In "The Ark," an absent-minded Noah (Adrian Zmed) maintains a complete faith in God as he oversees his wife Eliza (Annie Golden), their three sons - Ham, Shem and Japheth - and his son's wives during the title vessel's many months adrift.
Since the Bible doesn't say much about what happens on the ark, the musical's book and lyrics writers, Michael McLean and Kevin Kelly, fill time by giving everyone something to complain about. The spoiled Sariah thinks her husband Japheth spends too much time fiddling with gadgets and not enough time talking to her. Martha thinks her husband Shem spends too much time doing chores for his mom and not enough time having sex. Eliza complains about cleaning up after the animals.
None of this griping is compelling, convincing or humorous.
In Cosby's routine, Noah is irritable because he's in a genuinely awkward situation: He's building a huge boat because a voice that claims to be God told him to do so. But once it's clear that you're one of the eight people God has chosen to survive a massive flood and repopulate the earth, would you really be so preoccupied by your wardrobe, as Sariah is? If you were, would anyone care?
Ultimately, the musical's message is to not sweat the small stuff and appreciate the gift of life. But in resorting to tired domestic conflicts, "The Ark" joins the crowded stable of musicals that are too quick to fall back on familiar musical comedy archetypes and conventions. The writers would have been better off thinking more about the situation at hand. How would these characters really feel? Wouldn't they think about God's reasons for doing this? Wouldn't they mourn their friends and relatives who perished? Wouldn't they think about the new society they'll have to start?
The Ham plotline comes the closest to addressing these issues. In the Bible, after the flood ends, Ham betrays his father, so God condemns him to be his brothers' slave. In "The Ark," Ham (D.B. Bonds) is a confused, rebellious son who questions his father's reliance on God (forgetting the fact that God is the reason they're both alive). A couple of times, Ham wonders why he was chosen to survive. It's an intriguing question, but the idea is never fleshed out.
McLean's Stephen Schwartz-like, pop-gospel music is nothing special and is not well served by the embarrassingly direct lyrics. "I hate the rain / It's driving me insane" sounds like something out of a Mel Brooks parody.
A running gimmick has the characters come into the audience and treat them as if they're playing the animals. It's corny but at least it adds a dose of unpredictability.
Fixed spaces are packed with potential for drama. Think of the TV show "Lost," in which the characters, stuck on an island after a plane crash, make unwritten rules, form unlikely friendships and learn how to be resourceful. "The Ark" has a doubly serious premise, but, for the most part, its characters might as well be on a cruise ship.
THE ARK. Directed by Ray Roderick. 37 Arts, 450 West 37th Street. Tickets $66.25. Call 212-307-4100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.