It is just prior to daybreak on the last day the stranded ark will be occupied by Noah and his family. Mother Noah is sings to one of the cats she is about to release. She expresses her relief that the ordeal is over, but confesses to considerable confusion about what this devastating flood was all about. “The plan…all of this according to the plan…No plan revealed to me. Yet I was part of it all. Death and destruction…”
In the quiet of this early morning, a clandestine rendezvous is taking place between one of Noah’s sons, Japheth, and Noema, wife of Hamm, another of Noah’s sons. The two are interrupted by the shouts of Japheth’s brothers, Shem and Hamm. From the Ark’s top deck as they begin dropping bundles to unload from the vessel.
A jealous rivalry begins to surface as the three brothers dicker about which animals they will take with them to start their new lives. Their arguing awakens Noah, who is displeased with his sons’ behaviour and begins to doubt that the flood has cleansed the earth of human foibles after all.
As Noah moves on to begin a bout of drinking, Mother Noah and the three sons’ wives appear, intent on a party, a celebration of their final morning together. As the singing and dancing gets underway, it is announced by Hamm that Noah is lying drunk and naked on the deck of the Ark. By ancient belief, this chance encounter between Hamm and his naked, drunken father causes a curse to be placed upon Hamm.
As though this disquieting development were not enough, a covering to be placed over Noah’s nakedness is called for. From Shem’s bundle of belongings, a large fur is retrieved—obviously a new skin from the fresh kill of an animal aboard the Ark. The accusations arising from this discovery set the stage for future controversy.
Mother Noah insists the dawning of this day shall find them celebrating—not arguing—singing and dancing in gratitude for what the future may hold for them all. The first act ends with the refrain: “Oh greet the sun with shouts of Joy!…Rejoice in this your day!”
Several years later the enlarged family is gathering at the home of Noah and Mother Noah. Noah is dying and the family has assembled from their remote locations. Only Hamm and his family have not yet arrived. A weakened Noah struggles to stay alive until Hamm arrives. There is urgency to Noah’s insistence that he speak with Hamm, but to no avail. Noah dies just as Hamm bursts through the door and runs to his side.
The burden of Hamm’s curse only adds to his grief, of which he sings in anguish: “Nothing did I do to bring vengeance!” The unfairness of the curse gives rise to a dispute between the three sons, with particular focus on the animal fur found in Act I as they sought to cover the naked Noah. Hamm demands that Shem confess to killing one of the Ark’s animals; that, indeed, his action has condemned that species of animal to extinction. “It was in defiance of Noah and The Plan,” Hamm sings.
Hamm insists that that very skin be brought forth and used to cover Noah’s body. Shem, as the oldest son, takes charge of preparations for the burial, and the family begins their solemn march, bearing Noah’s body to his grave as Act II ends.
Some length of time has passed and the families are again in Mother Noah’s home. The women are trying to piece together an orderly account of all that has taken place since the ordeal of the flood. They sing a jumble of dates and times, which only become more confused as they try to set them down. Their amusing frustrations are interrupted by an agitated Shem, who bursts onto the scene, ordering his wife, to gather the children and depart. “I am being pursued by madmen…my brothers!” The impending clash between the three brothers prompts Mother Noah to attempt to take charge of the situation. When Hamm and Japheth come raging into the house, armed with weapons and intent on doing battle, Mother Noah places herself and her grandchildren in the midst of the violent brothers.
The Situation grows more ominous when Shem reveals that Japheth and Noema, Hamm’s wife, were having an affair at the time the Ark was deserted. Hamm’s murderous outburst causes Japheth to take one of the grandchildren hostage for his own protection. A violent and bloody battle is about to erupt within the family.
Mother Noah, in a selfless act of great courage and personal jeopardy takes command, disarming the three sons, and removing her grandchildren from harm. Then, in a concluding aria, she sings of the plan—the plan revealed to Noah at the time of the flood. The plan they were betraying.
She draws the grandchildren about her, reminding them that part of the plan was a promise—a promise made to them and to all future generations. “Never again shall such destruction rain down on the earth. The rainbow’s brilliant arc shall forever be the sign of that promise.”
Mother Noah then orders the grandchildren: “Bring a pot, grab a pan…something for rhythm. Put smiles on your faces, a song in your heart. A great celebration, my precious ones, we’re going to start!” With these words, Mother Noah draws first the children, then the wives, and finally the husbands into the singing and dancing as before: “O greet the sun with shouts of joy! Rejoice, this is our day!” A terrible tragedy is averted and hope is again restored to Noah’s little family.