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Children of Eden – Off Off Broadway Theater Review

 

THE END OF A SEASON'S JOURNEY

 

picture - Children of Eden - Astoria Performing Arts CenterTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre 

published May 18, 2010 

 

Children of Eden

now playing Off Off Broadway at the Good Shepherd Methodist Church  

through May 22 

 

Astoria Performing Arts Center's production of the musical Children of Eden is an uplifting conclusion to their sentimental season.  From the gravitas of the dark season-opener, The Pillowman, to the magic and mystery of the Children of Eden, Apac has succeeded in creating an upward emotional slope that begins with despair but ends with hope and faith.  Given the disasters going on, natural and otherwise, we could all use a heaping portion of them.

 

The recent earthquake in Haiti and the economic collapse of Greece are but a myriad of examples that  put our values and priorities to the test.  Loss of shelter and money tend to leave our legs dangling, looking for what once was solid ground.  Children of Eden, a collaborative effort between book writer John Caird and composer Stephen Schwartz, offers such footing, but not in the way that you'd expect.  Loosely based on the Bible's Book of Genesis, this energetic musical offers our own selves as a means of security, not God.  But while this presentation is not overly-religious, it does touch upon spirituality as a guide to strength and vitality, even if self-sufficiency is the end all and be all.

 

Relying on oneself is a constant theme and principal in the story, but director Tom Wojtunik presents it gently, not abrasively.  As a result, the production never feels sacrilegious, and how can it?  James Zanelli plays God, or Father as he is affectionately called here, in such a fun, wink-wink way that disobeying him by eating the apple doesn't seem like a crime.  With much tweaking to the original story, Adam (Joseph Spieldenner) is ousted from Eden alongside Eve (Emmy Raver-Lampman) by his own will instead of punishment.  Therein begins the choices, therein begins the turmoil.

 

picture - Children of Eden - Astoria Performing Arts CenterThe characters in Children of Eden are troubled by many things.  They disappoint God, disappoint themselves, and then struggle to make do with the aftermath.  And in the midst of their troubles, they sing.  They sing about their dissonance with God, their misfortune, and finding solace in each other and the future.  Michael P. Kramer's multi-level set allows the vocals of the ensemble of family members, angels and serpents to be grandiose when required and moderate when not.  And though the Flood is executed much more successfully in performance, imagination, and (most prominently) animal puppetry during Act Two than the Garden of Eden in Act One, the cast is compelling at all times.

 

Like most productions that post-date the London original, the cast for the Temptation doubles as the cast for the Ark.  Although each actor is competent in their double-roles, Alan Shaw displays enough leadership and volatility as Cain, the murderous brother to Abel (Stephen Gelpi) and Japheth, the rebellious son of Noah, to keep your eyes fixated on him.  But he's not the only one or thing to watch.  From the cascading flowers and apples that form the Tree of Knowledge to multi-purpose staffs that strike the air, there's always something exciting going on, even if it sometimes ventures too close to the first row in the audience.  If it's not gleeful, it's solemn.  If it's not jubilant, it's somber.  All of the feelings, high or low, are heartfelt and outwardly expressed.

 

While you will run through the gamut of emotions at Children of Eden, the ones that will stay with you are hope and faith.  Regardless of your personal belief system, you will be energized when you emerge.  And if an Apac production can accomplish that in these trying times,  I can't wait to see what the next one will do.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 

photos by Jen Maufries Kelly

 

 
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