Theatre Review: ...Children of Eden... is Sinfully GoodYou...ll Laugh, You...ll Cry, You...ll Quote Scripture at MTG...s Fall Show
By Bill Andrews
CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR
“Children of Eden”
MIT Musical Theatre Guild
Dec. 1-3 and 7-9
La Sala de Puerto Rico
MIT is a school known for many things, but religion and music are not usually among them. And yet here we have a show, made up almost entirely of MIT folks, filled with both. And, best of all, it succeeds brilliantly on all counts.
Now, you’re probably thinking “Children of Eden?” Is it really a case of “Bible: The Musical!”? Well, yes. The first two stories in Genesis, the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark, comprise the events in the first and second act, respectively. There is a God, only he is listed instead as Father. Why not just call Him God? Because, surprisingly, that’s not what this show is about.
Instead, “Children of Eden” is a show abot relationships: Adam and Eve’s, Adam and Cain’s, and of course God’s relationship with all of them (and, through metaphorical extension, us). We see the innocence of youth tainted by the necessary rebellion that accompanies maturation, both literally when Cain wants to live his own life and leave his parents, and symbolically when Eve eats that sinful apple. Thus, the religious aspects are downplayed in favor of the familial aspects, to which everyone can relate; so God’s called Father, and everyone else (including, to a lesser extent, us) are His Children of Eden.
Lofty goals indeed, but did MTG pull it off? Already, before anyone goes on stage we can tell we’re in for something special. Platforms at varying heights and depths, a stairway to heaven, and even a real waterfall greet us as we step inside La Sala; the magnificence of the stage suggests vastness, while its cozier corners are ideal for more isolated actions. The actors make full use of the space, too, at times filling it to capacity with frenetic action; at others times making a character’s loneliness physically felt.
But, helpful as the stage is to the actors, one gets the impression that all they need to dazzle us is a space to perform. The ensemble starts the show out in darkness, singing along with the God/Father (Darrell D. Cain ’08) as creation begins. Right away we can see the greatness of the ensemble, of which everyone (except God) is at some point a part. The energetic and expressive dancing, choreographed by Laura Espy, took center stage as different parts of the world are created; at one point a whale came to life on stage, clearly, and rather beautifully. In general, the choreography was great, adding another dimension and layer of depth to each song; the dancing would range from animals roaming everywhere in seeming chaos, to perfectly organized dance moves, just like that.
Upstaging even the choreography, however, was the singing. Never have I been so impressed with an ensemble’s performance. More than once, the sheer beauty of the chords, and the thick musical tapestry which all the varying motifs and themes wove, sent shivers down my spine. That’s a pretty awesome feeling. Of course, there are times when a soloist is a little rocky or the chorus holds a note too long, but this is true of all musical theater, and the remarkable skill with which the vast majority of the numbers are sung makes this a very minor point. In fact, the very notion that 23 of the 26-person cast are engineers or scientists makes their feat even more impressive.
Individually, the singing was just as rich and beautiful. Cain’s God/Father was well played, and subtle enough to go from the loving, noble God to the wrathful, vengeful God at a moment’s notice. Adam (Terral R. Jordan ’07) was able to bring us through the long story of his life; he was charming on stage, and convincing throughout as a guy who’s just trying to do what he thinks is right. The final father figure in the show, Noah (Carlos Cardenas ’09), kept up the tradition of greatness established in the first act; he is the only father to let his children grow up with kindness, and thus we get the impression that Man is learning from his mistakes. We also get a happy ending.
While I wish I could go on mentioning how great everyone was (and they were), space only permits me to mention a few more. Mama Noah (Brooke A. Jarrett ’10, also a Tech photographer) had a great (but all-too-brief) voice in “Ain’t It Good”; when she sang, my ears dropped everything else just to hear her better, and my eyes weren’t too disappointed either. Yonah (Krista Sergi), the socially inferior servant with whom Japheth (son of Noah) falls in love, played very compellingly the lover trapped by circumstance; her voice was true, her emotions believable, and I rejoiced every time she was on stage. Further, Steven L. Flowers ’06, who played both Cain and Japheth, was able to humanize the infamous inventor of murder, bringing a depth and soul to his characters that everyone else could feel and react to. Lastly, and most spectacularly, Danbee Kim ’09, also a Tech Arts staff writer, was fantastic as Eve, the notorious woman to whom we owe our fall from grace. Seeing her grow up with Adam highlighted not just their great chemistry, but her ability to convey pain and suffering. Her voice, rich and passionate, belied a wisdom beyond Kim’s few years, and I just couldn’t get enough. Even if everyone else had sucked (and they didn’t at all), it would be worth it to see this show just for her.
Enough stroking of the actors’ egos, though, there was other stuff in this show, too. Most notably, after the beautiful singing, was the beautiful music supporting it. The orchestra, 14 members strong and many of them students as well, provided just the right musical undertone to highlight and temper the actors’ voices. The large number of electronic instruments made it sound even more professional and Broadway-ish (to me). They also did a great job of making an already great show even greater, whether in a Fosse-type dance number, an exotic African-type number, a soaring love ballad, or a crushing smite-heavy piece.
Lastly, the show is also quite pretty to look at. The costumes are bright and vibrant, and feature more cute and fluffy animals than you can shake a staff at. And the lighting, too, brings to life not just the thunder and lightning we expect from any Bible story, but the ethereal quality of the afterlife and the harsh realities of daily life as well.
In the end, this is flat-out an incredible show. Not only is it a joy to see and listen to, and not only is it heart-warming just to know that MIT kids are capable of such beauty, but it’s a show to which everyone can relate. There’s happiness when Adam and Eve are first naming the animals, and sadness when Adam, then Abel, then Noah are each forced to choose between things they cannot bear to lose. We see it’s not at all a show about religion, but about life itself, and what makes that life both wonderful and terrible. It is our relationships to one another (and, if you want to see it that way, to God too) which really matter, and which make the biggest difference, in the end.
So whether you want a religious experience, an artistic experience, or just a fun time away from problem sets and final projects, “Children of Eden,” unlike so many other children, won’t disappoint.