Inspired by John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, Not Man Apart Ensemble creates with brilliant, athletic dance, a vigorous musical score, and jaw-dropping projections, a retelling of the story of creation, the war in heaven, the descent of Satan, and the tragic fall of Adam and Eve (Leslie Charles Roy, Jr. and Alina Bolshakova). Directed and adapted by Jones (Welsh) Talmadge and co-director Laura Covelli who plays Sin, the story is told entirely in movement with not a word spoken except at the beginning with a recorded announcement delivering the usual admonitions through the sound system as if generated from the thoughts of Father God (J-Walt Adamczyk) and Mother God (Marguerite French) who gesture benignly. With a devise in his hand—call it a wand—Father God makes the universe on a white wall upstage that is about fifteen feet high. With a pair of gods, one male and one female, we are clearly journeying beyond scripture. The Son of God (Zachary Reeve Davidson) deals with the first couple and their paradise.
Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny is a war between good and evil and Jones (Welsh) Talmadge as Satan is the baddest of bad dudes. Mr. Talmage is spectacular in his viciousness. Tall and amazingly strong, he roams the stage with astonishing power, his movement derived from ballet, martial and aerial arts, and acrobatics. His pièce de résistance comes midway through the performance when he is hoisted high off the stage by chains, performing movements of Olympic caliber. The entire cast flawlessly performs the choreography created by Talmadge, Anne-Marie Talmadge, Alina Bolshakova, Leslie Charles Roy, Jr. and the NMA Ensemble. Talmadge is not the only one doing aerial work. Other cast members leap from high platforms and use chains to swing over the stage like Tarzan. The back wall is actually a climbing wall with handholds that allow some of them to climb all the way to the top, very useful for getting up in a projection tree to steal an apple.
Much of this dance spectacle seems thrillingly dangerous to the eye of this audience member, and risky. But then I recall something that Phillipe Petit said when asked about the risk factor of walking on a wire stretched between the Twin Towers 1350 feet above the streets of Manhattan. “I take no risk,” said he, stressing his caution in analyzing the weather and his arduous preparation in rigging the wire, and of course, his phenomenal skill. He did admit that his performance was “framed in danger.” The Not Man Apart Ensemble are so disciplined and so well rehearsed that they, too, could say that their performance is “framed in danger.”
The most important theme of the show has to do with masculinity and femininity and the evolving understanding of the importance of true equality of the sexes. Adam and Eve are the same, equal in the Garden, but after the temptation and fall, which plays out differently in this show than in scripture, cruel male dominance rears its ugly head. In a major deviation from Milton, a scene in the middle of the show is set in the 1950s. A Barbara Billingsley housewife, played by Sin replete in high heels and a frilly apron, makes dinner for her hulking, business suited husband, Death (James Bane) who cruelly abuses her. Paradise Lost is a tribute to the evolving consciousness of the necessary equality of the sexes. And it is clear that the battle is far from won.
Other characters from Milton’s epic are the Archangels—Michael, Anne-Marie Talmadge; Raphael, Kendall Johnson; Gabriel, Elisa Rosin—as well as Joseph Baca III as Seraph Abdiel, Alexander Garland as Beelzebub, Moses Norton as Belial, and Janine Alicia Montag as Moloch.
The show is a treat for the eyes with visual design by co-creator J-Walt Adamczyk and video installation artist Hannah Beavers. Mr. Talmadge designed the set, with lights by John E. D. Boss, costumes by Ashphord Jockoway, and sound design by Niki Amato. Original music is composed by Bernie Sirelson, Alysia Michelle James, and Elisa Rosin.
Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny, co-produced by Greenway Arts Alliance, runs through April 2. Don’t miss this thrilling piece of very physical theatre. It had me leaning forward rapt, with elbows on knees.