Paradise Lost: a review

* published on Jan 11, 2012 in EDGE

If you are going to do a one-person show you better be remarkable. I mean quirky, or possess an incredible voice, or a presence that can hold the stage and the audience, even if the show is less than 60 minutes. Paul Van Dyck is not that performer. He wishes he were, and he may grow to be, but right now on a cold winter night at the Horse Trade Theater’s Encore festival at the Kraine Theater, he is not that man.

Paul Van Dyck in "Paradise Lost" (Source:Emily Owens PR)

And “Paradise Lost” is not the show unless you were seeing it for the National Theater Conference, which many folks in the audience seemed to be, and you wanted to book it for a Bible college somewhere in the Bible belt. I should share my prejudices here: I am a fallen Catholic. Well really, I jumped.

I barraged the nuns with so many questions; I timed prayers, pushing for a faster Act of Contrition, and insisted on wearing boy’s clothes when not in uniform. Finally the beleaguered nuns told my mother I was not Catholic School girl; HOORAY, and they tossed me out. So the strict Judeo-Christian interpretation of the creation myth does not hold a lot of truck with me. Early on I saw it as a way to control those who might buck the system in a more full throated way. You know Marx’s adage, “Religion is the opium of the people.”

So it was tough for me to sit through the retelling of Milton’s 17th century “Paradise Lost”, itself a retelling of the Bible story of Adam and Eve. Anyone need refreshing on the horrible sexist nature of that story? Well it is all about Eve; she is the bad girl. She gets them tossed, but Adam has to stay married.

It is all about the birth of shame, the thing that really binds us to so much horror in our current lives. It is the tale of a vengeful god bestowing painful childbirth on Eve as further punishment. It’s not enough that she has to go forth naked — and it is raining. And she has to stay with Adam, who is a weak putz. Adam is doomed to make war, wreak vengeance, torture, and vent, all because of an apple offered by the serpent.

I don’t want to sit and hear a distilled version of Milton’s exact text spouted by an actor with a less-than-compelling voice, even if there are occasional Rolling Stones songs — “Sympathy for the Devil”, of course. And there was multi-media as promised, flames projected onto muslin curtains depicted the devil cast out of heaven. Van Dyck takes off his tee shirt — he is a cute enough white boy — and he becomes God by wrapping the curtains around his arms and projecting wings. It works well enough, but I am sick of God as a white boy. Anyone else?

In between the appearances of God, Adam and Eve are introduced; they are small puppets with wooden limbs that resemble sausages. Eve is saucy with fiery red yarn hair and Adam sounds like Rick Perry, only he actually knows his lines. But the drawl and Bible talk really took me somewhere else.

And for me, it needed to really go somewhere else. I needed a commentary, not just a retelling. I needed a second voice which said, we can’t listen to this and swallow, hook, line and sinker, the message that humans were conceived in sin and so therefore we must struggle, toil, be punished because a mythical man had his rib stolen in the night and from that woman was created and she continues to this day to make mischief.

In fact, “Paradise Lost” clearly reiterated the message that things would go a whole lot better if women were “obedient.” I think this obedience to husband as master is why Michele Bachmann became a lawyer and was running for President; her husband and God told her to, and as a woman she is not entitled to free will.

I don’t want to see more retelling of a story, a myth that seems to have landed us all in a world of hurt through unthinking adherence to principles which may have worked thousands of years ago. Where is the “Paradise Lost” for our age? That is the show I want to see.


“Paradise Lost” ran through January 9 as part of the Horse Trade Theater’s Encore festival at The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th St. For info, visit

3 responses to “Paradise Lost: a review

  1. Coming to a theatre near me–not!

  2. We obviously did not see the same play. What I watched was a clever and poetic rethinking of an already ancient theme of man and God. The theme provoked us to question our own cultural explanations for the suicidal nature of our own species. Van Dyke saw as Milton did the irony of the interpretation of the human self destruct attitude. When we ignore the stories and myths on which we build our culture we are doomed to repeat and misinterpret their messages . Questioning and re-interpretation of past literary themes stimulate ways to provoke thought outside the box. Just knowing that Milton wondered about why we are the way we are gives me freedom to ask the same questions . You wanted a mirror that reflects contemporary thought but what you got was a window that gives a glimpse of past thinking. Anyway you look at it you where forced to ask a question.

    • This is why I adore theater. Yes we can see the same play and have wildly different reactions to it. BRAVO to the work for provoking all of them. Thank you for writing for attending live theater, nothing better. I hope to find a place of common ground soon, but love the chatter and the energy.

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