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Previews
Children of Eden

Children of Eden
Eastlight
Theatre
March 23-25 & 27-31
By Cara Rosson
 

Children of Eden was originally written an produced in 1986 by Stephen Schwartz – of Godspell fame – with a book by John Caird of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It uses the Book of Genesis from the Bible to tell the story of two families – two familiar, historic, Biblical families through the modern lens of parent/child relationships – with strict and demanding but loving fathers, and obedient vs. curious children. Adam and Eve and their descendents are depicted in Act One, and Noah and his descendents in Act Two. We also see the relationship between both families and The Father, or God.

Adam Sitton and the production crew have produced a really beautiful show in Children of Eden. The set is quite simple, but the lighting and the staging of the cast create wonderful pictures to punctuate the score. Sitton uses the cast and chorus beautifully, helped by strong yet charmingly simple choreography by his wife Kates Sitton. The movement by key characters like Father, and Adam and Eve, underscores the music well. And the use of shadow puppet animals during “The Naming” in Act One, and the loading of Noah's Ark is Act Two, is absolutely gorgeous. Steve Cordle's rich and colorful lighting ensures that each animal/puppet really pops. The costumes by Ann Marie Dunn add still more layers of texture and color to an already stunning visual show.

Schwartz and Caird divert from the Biblical stories somewhat in the characters of Eve, her son Cain, and Noah's son Japheth. In Children of Eden, they are portrayed as curious knowledge-seekers. And the Father at times seems harsh, judgmental, and quite cruel. So instead of the simple good and evil tale you usually get from Bible stories, you see a layered, complicated look at these foundational families. Eve eating the apple is not simply about temptation, but about the desire for knowledge that will move humankind forward, away from innocence and simplicity, and towards adulthood and all the complexities that come with it. Yes, they lose the daily perfection that is the Garden of Eden, but they gain the full range of human emotions that make life so beautiful and rich, and in my opinion, worth living. There is no true joy without knowing sadness.

Jamika Russell brings good strength and a beautiful voice to Eve. You really sense how curious she is to learn about life and living, and it is clear that Eve is the one who forges the path forward for all humanity. Jarod Hazzard does a great job making Cain and Japheth not simply mean or disobedient sons, but sympathetic, independent young men who are seeking their own way in life, to establish themselves apart from their strong but domineering fathers.

Despite their best efforts, though, the story as a whole is a bit bland, as is the music. Composer Schwartz made such strong musical choices in his other work Godspell, using different genres of music to punctuate each tale. But here, the music blends together in a quiet whisper. There are underlying musical threads that go with the narrative themes of what it means to be a father, of moving beyond and learning more, and with the “spark of creation” that is knowledge, but none of them are particularly memorable. Maybe Sitton and his cast could have brought a little more oomph to it, but I don't think that the book or score gave them a lot to work with in terms of engaging drama. Given Sitton's strong directing skills, and the good singing and acting talent featured here, it's a shame it was used for this rather flat work.

Children of Eden continues its run Wednesday, March 28 - Saturday, March 31st beginning at 7:30 at Eastlight Theatre in the East Peoria High School Auditorium.  Tickets are $19 and are available at the Eastlight Theatre Box Office, by calling 309-699-7469 or online at
 www.eastlighttheatre.com
 
Posted March 28, 2012

 
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