Saturday, December 6, 2014

'Children of Eden': A Superb Challenge

John Caird's "Children of Eden," playing at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke through Dec. 21, carries the kind of challenging, uplifting and deeply relevant message live theater delivers as no other medium can.

This retelling of the Biblical genesis of mankind brings you characters you think you know, but in this retelling you get to start all over. God is not omnipotent goodness, but a jealous, demanding, cruel parent who often stifles creativity and soaks himself in racism. Adam is an intellectually challenged cheerleader and Eve an adventurous, creative and curious woman who wants to experiment. Able is an innocent, Cain like his mother in his creativity and curiosity.

Just when you think you've got all this straight, along comes Noah and his family with some of the same challenges and God's having to deal with this dysfunctional group just as he had to with Adam's family.

This is all wrapped around Stephen Schwartz' lyrics and music that tell the story deliberately, directly and without an abundance of syrupy sentiment. But it is the rise in the last 20 minutes that gives way to the ultimate salvation of everybody, including God, who finds himself among those who has learned good and valuable lessons by failing.

Director and choreographer Matthew Glover deserves a huge share of the credit for this successful telling of an ancient story. He has combined his few professional actors--singers of superb voice: Chris Van Cleve, David Sattler, Ayana Major Bey, Anthony Nuccio and Jill Vandereoff--with a large group of native actors, singers and dancers, who seem to be growing in numbers and quality with each production at MMT and the several other theaters in the area.

This is a telling that will offend some Christians, those of fundamental persuasion, and delight others, those who believe in a living God, one capable of growth and development. My thought as I was watching tonight was this: "Children of Eden" is Biblical, but it would not play on the stage at Liberty University. It is a fine play, but I assure you that whatever your beliefs, you will have uncomfortable moments and moments where you can't hold back the tears.

The full-stage, full-throated gospel tune near the end of the play (led by Miss Bay's rich and deep delivery) is worth the ticket price. This play is superb and well worth your time and money. But it's not always easy. Which is what good theater is all about.

You may buy tickets at www.millmountain.org or 540-342-5740.



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