On stage is a wall-sized, textured reproduction of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam – God’s hand reaching out to that of the first man. Three-dimensional, cut-out trees on grassy, leveled earth flank its image. Blackout! Explosions, thunder! Choir moans. Lights, sky, mountains, even tree tops are now fiery.
“You said this would be easy! I had a bad feeling about it from the start!” declares Beelzebub as he picks himself up off the dirt and lava sodden ground. (Lou Libertore with a Brooklyn accent defining his persona as a foot soldier.) “There are maybe four hundred million angels who are gonna be angry when they wake up…” “I should’ve been Vice Regent, everyone knew it!” Lucifer snaps. (David Andrew Macdonald, undoubtedly splendid in Shakespeare. Angry and seductive here, though oddly missing malevolence.)
“HIS failure to crush us has to be a shock to HIM,” Lucifer says rallying. “Did you save the microphone?” Beelzebub hands a 1940s’ iteration to his chief. “I say to you all, it’s infinitely better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven!” a literally echoing proclamation begins. “The tyrant wanted war, we will give him war!” A crowd cheers. This is an orator.
Satan (name changed, one presumes, according to the Bible) has a plan. He’ll leave #2 to take the soldiers’ minds off suffering while they build a palace worthy of their leader. Give Moloch and Belial something to do. Meanwhile, the battered angel will figure a way out of Hell and find the “perfect world” rumor has it God created elsewhere.
Barooom! Sin zips in on an electric scooter looking like a vampiric Helena Bonham Carter (fabulous wig) with sausages looped around her full skirt. Once “hot” she now repels her “creator, father, lover, husband.” (Their child is Death.) Unfortunately, Sin holds the key to the gate. Satan must flatter and cajole, pretending to respond to the creature’s pouting enticement. Interplay is great. Exit is secured, but not the key.
You know the rest of the story, so notes won’t be a spoiler. Speech is a nifty blend of wit and personality, colloquial, poetry and Bible. (Never so much of the latter it quite makes the piece polemic.) Did I say personality? We meet wide-eyed Eve (Marina Shay) learning the nature of things (including herself). She names animals and talks to them feeling “empowered.” (Bird conversation is grand.) Besotted, incredulous mate Adam (Robbie Simpson), is the sweet, righteous first man. Both wear thin, asymmetrical, flesh colored layers.
Shay is enchanting. She acts with her whole body and mind. Innocence doesn’t manifest as ditsy. We watch Eve puzzle things out, the process reflected in expression. Delight in the new is as evident as growing awareness of her own near omnipotence. Confusions of ego are apparent. This woman has her own mind. Brava.
Robbie Simpson’s Adam is clear-eyed, straight-from-the-hip, without guile. A moment of struggle before giving in to Eve against better judgment might’ve added frisson, otherwise the role is nicely played. (The actor’s hair is too short/barbered.)
Archangel Gabriel (Mel Johnson, Jr. who could create a more specific character) arrives to share with the couple their destiny, relate the story of angelic banishment, and warn them about Satan. Happiness abides until the personification of evil (in a snakeskin jacket) starts to enter Eve’s dreams. It should be noted she has to let him in, and does. The romantic adulation of his forked tongue affects. (Is he smitten?) Both Sin and Beelzebub stay in touch, prodding the boss.
What goes through Eve’s mind before and after the sacrilegious “act” makes sense. You’ll likely relate. Equivocating, Adam is also well manifest/ explained. Playwright Tom Dulack’s human perspective is accessible and refreshing. The production is visually fun and theatrically appealing.
Director Michael Parva has a light touch. Use of the electric scooter is imaginative, the rifle, not so much. Additionally, the first couple don’t seem quite shocked enough being exiled.
Scenic Designer Harry Feiner, Projection Designer John Narun, and Lighting Designer Phil Monat are successful collaborators. Painterly depictions of Hell, Eden, and beyond morph artfully. Hell’s barren terrain glows, the garden is dappled, angels evoke a particular aura. (Here’s a case where video doesn’t compete with actors.) Note: When Eden shrivels, apple trees (Life and Knowledge) should do so in kind.
Original Music & Sound Design by John Gromada provide visceral explosions and credible angelic choir – which is to say of a single evocative voice.
Costumes by Sydney Maresca are wonderful, just the right combination of irreverent and apt, mythical and current. Wings are beautifully crafted. Inclusion of animal skins at the end is clever.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Arrival in Hell
Fellowship for The Performing Arts presents
Paradise Lost by Tom Dulack
Inspired by the poem by John Milton
Directed by Michael Parva
410 West 42nd Street
Through March 1, 2020