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‘Eden’ not quite paradise

By web

Section: Arts

March 26, 2010

Hillel Theater Group’s (HTG) production of “Children of Eden” had moments of humor, large amounts of wit and a few amazing solo performances, but it was burdened by awkward staging, musical missteps and confusing acting choices.

The musical attempts to retell two stories from Genesis: the first act centers on the tale of Adam and Eve while the second deals with Noah’s ark. The musical is based on a book by John Caird , which twists the parables by humanizing them through an emphasis on family drama. In HTG’s production, this leads to mixed results.

During the first act, God (Ethan Goldberg ’12) fashions mankind and attempts to have a close relationship with his creations, in order to form a family. He tells his children that he loves them, orders them to go to bed early and warns them to stay away from a tree with strange fruit.

The re-imagining of this Genesis tale works in that it adds dimension to Adam’s and, in particular, Eve’s characters. Eve, played by Zoe Novic ’13 with an earnest charm, is fueled by a curiosity to know the answers that her “father” cannot provide her. Her rebellion in eating the fruit of knowledge is not only significant as a betrayal of her God, but as a betrayal of her father. When Eve is expelled from Eden, she is not only forced to leave Paradise but also her home. Caird makes Eve’s fall analogous with a child’s loss of innocence and transition into adulthood, which is an interesting concept and fascinating to watch.

Similarly, Caird’s transformation of Adam (Nick Maletta ’13) into a three-dimensional character is also effective. Adam is a dutiful son who must choose between his God, who is also his father, and his lover. His indecision results in one of the most moving musical performances of the night, the duet “A World Without You,” sung by the Father and Adam. Maletta did a beautiful job of communicating the pain Adam feels in making an impossible choice.

However, while Eve and Adam benefit from becoming three-dimensional characters, the character of God does not. In fact, God comes across as kind of a jerk. This would have been fine if it was intentional, but his behavior was jarring in the context of the play and its themes. Nevertheless, this has more to do with the script than the director’s choices.

The Father describes his reasoning for making Adam and Eve as “They will keep me company, they will keep me young,” hugging himself and consequently reducing the creation story into a man’s attempt to prevent loneliness. His attitude towards Adam and Eve is awful.He is condescending, aloof, at times wrathful and is frustrating in his ambiguous answers.

God is no longer God, but a being with powers who treats humans as playthings. Thus, it’s a relief when Eve and later Noah rebel when Adam and Abel blindly obey him. In the musical’s attempt to provide viewers with a personal version of the Genesis tales, it may have missed an opportunity to explore bigger questions.

While the second act, which tells the story of Noah’s ark, presents a compelling viewing experience, a few song missteps proved to be distracting. Noah’s son Japeth (Neal Rabinowitz ’13) falls in love with a descendent of Cain, Yonah (Marti Dembowitz ’10), creating a clash between father and son and echoing the first act’s theme of children rebelling against an indifferent father. The love ballad “In Whatever Time We Have” between Japeth and Yonah was cringe-worthy because Rabinowitz, for some reason, sang in an irritating falsetto. This was disappointing because Rabinowitz’s earlier song “Lost in the Wilderness” was a joy to hear.

Yet, the second act also featured Mama Noah’s “Ain’t it Good?,” which was amazing in a bluesy, wonderfully over-the-top way. In this song Julie Stein ’11 stole the show with her powerful vocals and charismatic performance. Unfortunately, her performance was nearly overshadowed by the question of why she was performing

it in the first place. All the other characters in the second act were played by actors who had roles in the previous act, creating parallels between the two acts through doubling. So, Maletta played Adam and Noah (both fathers), while Rabinowitz played Cain and Japeth (rebellious sons).

Thus, when Noah and Japeth make different decisions than their former counterparts, the play’s theme of second chances has a deeper meaning. Novic, however, does not continue this doubling trend by taking on the role of Noah’s wife. Although Stein was wonderful, her presence disrupted the play’s continuity.

Poor staging negatively impacted the audience’s perception of the play as a whole, as well. While it was clever to have God gradually ascend above the other characters as he distances himself and ultimately disappears from their lives, the effect was ruined when God, at times, had to awkwardly descend from his high platform. In addition, the majority of the stage was taken up by raised steps, which left little room for the actors when they congregated on stage.

HTG’s “Children of Eden” did many things well and provided for an overall enjoyable night of entertainment, but there were simply too many distractions to fully appreciate its positive qualities.

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