Paradise Lost and Found

The Theatre Studies program at Western has chosen an ambitious production for its introductory showcase, and Paradise Lost begins what is hopefully the first of many successful productions from the newly formed program. John Milton’s Paradise Lost may seem like a rather onerous and well-trodden adaptation, as there have been many failed attempts to adapt the text to both stage and film; however the one-man (and three puppet) play proves to be an extremely enjoyable and well-developed production.

Whenever one attends a show adapted from 17th century verse, it is easy for one to feel they must put on their best Peter Griffin impression, assessing everything as shallow and pedantic, and hoping no one realizes you don’t belong. However Paul Van Dyck’s show is so accessible and engrossing that one never feels out of place, and everyone can find meaning within it. Aided by only the three aforementioned puppets (who portray Adam, Eve, and the Serpent), a table, three extremely malleable white sheets, and some special effects (courtesy of technical professionals and The Rolling Stones); Van Dyck along with stage manager Sara Rodriguez have turned an epic poem into an epic play.

Paradise Lost tells the story of Satan’s fall from Heaven, and how he exacts his revenge upon God by corrupting and manipulating God’s greatest achievement, humankind. Satan calls upon all those who are fallen, pleading for them to rise up, band together, and take what is rightfully theirs. In the original text, this includes waging war on Heaven itself, but given the logistical and economic constraints, Van Dyck wisely limits the story to Satan’s corruption of Adam and Eve, and the genesis of original sin.

The play is transposed to the setting of the mid 1960’s Cultural Revolution, pairing Satan and his fallen brethren with the protesters and revolutionaries of the 1960s. It has the music of The Rolling Stones playing throughout, all (not coincidentally) pre-1970 and the famous Altamont Festival, which signalled the end and disillusionment of the counter cultural movement. The decision to do so may be somewhat lacking in fidelity, but it makes the production much more relevant and opens it up to a much wider audience. Milton’s prose is still maintained, but the updates allow for other easily identifiable comparisons (such as Communist and African-American Revolutionaries) more palpable. It also makes the production succeed where many others have failed, successfully adapting a text that many consider inadaptable.

The show begins with Van Dyck cast out of Heaven, and his rousing call to arms. The call is delivered with such force and precision, it makes Satan’s cause seem a worthy one. Satan then descends upon Eden, to find Adam and Eve in their Paradise, and ascends into the role of puppet master. The puppets themselves are eerily lifelike, and their simple yet calculated design makes them perfectly suited to display the illusion of free will. Van Dyck’s masterful and subtle manipulation of Adam and Eve is artful in itself, and one has no trouble believing Adam and Eve’s humanity.

As we all know, the (ingeniously made) Serpent emerges to fulfill Satan’s aim, and Original Sin is born. However, the most powerful moment in the production occurs after Satan completes his mission. A montage is projected to display the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s manipulation; images of war, pain, disease, and all of the other ills of our world flash before their eyes, all resulting from their lone moment of weakness. But these are not the only effects of their decision, as Satan is quick to point out. Their decision also gave us love, compassion, strength, and the very essence of our humanity. For love cannot be spawned without hate, strength without pain, compassion without contempt. This production proves that Paradise was not only Lost with Adam and Eve; it was also found.

Rating 9/10

To purchase tickets, check out the Arts Project.

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