The latest production from the Encore Theatre is a familiar story. There are universal themes about love and family and how complicated those can be. The characters are common archetypes that we might recognize from literature, or even from our own families, if we’re willing to admit to a little dysfunction.
There’s the overbearing patriarch. He demands obedience, lashing out thunderously when betrayed. The rebellious children want independence, yet so desperately yearn for their father’s approval. The next generation is not immune, with the sins of the father being passed on with the drama unfolding. There are betrayals, forbidden loves, and brothers against brothers. It could be “The Godfather” or a Spanish novella. That’s why they’re called universal themes.
At Encore, these themes come in the form of “Children of Eden,” as told by the ultimate first family. Pulled from the Book of Genesis, “Children of Eden” is two stories, but it comes with the caveat that it’s fiction, with tweaks to those stories born out of creative license and is not a literal interpretation of the Good Book.
With that said, Act I is Adam and Eve, both in and out of paradise, and with their boys. Act II is Noah, his clan, and the boatload of beasts. Both stories have the drama, the betrayals and whatnot, and it’s a musical to boot.
“Children of Eden” really is an interesting take on the maladjusted family theme. If you can survive the cuteness overload of adorable children dressed as ark animals, you might just see in it the history of how the human race became so beautifully screwed up.
The father wanted perfection — instead just maybe he got something better. Because among the betrayals, disobedience and even the fratricide, there is also forgiveness, empathy and a feisty spark to carry on despite adversity. The human race isn’t perfection, but we ain’t so bad, either.
The play tugs at the question of whether an eternal string of perfect days in paradise outweighs the enlightenment of knowledge. Can perfection become monotonous? Was free will given as a gift or as a test of obedience? Eve asks why she’s given curiosity if she’s not to use it. You know what happens next, so we go on to Act II where Noah and his lot are still paying the price, this time for the sins of the mother.
To say any more of the plot, especially of stories so known even to those without a religious upbringing, would be of no use here. Encore handles the material well and the music adds an extra dimension to the storytelling. It’s a huge cast with a lot of child actors who, to their credit, are very professional. There was minimal fidgeting on stage even among the youngest and they all appeared to know their cues and hit their marks with little corralling. A few of them had the on-stage energy of future leading actors and this was good experience for the pint-sized thespians.
As for the adults and teens in the cast, many had multiple roles in each act and juggled them admirably. Standouts include Alexandra Newby as the always questioning and bubbling-with-energy Eve. Josh Adcock played Adam with a dopey but endearing vibe, always good-naturedly trying to convince Eve to forget the fruit. Both Newby and Adcock are strong musically as well.
Chase Little-Battle and Ashton Szabados are Cain and Abel, respectively, and while the tension between the brothers is fierce, they’re able to get across the brotherly camaraderie. Little-Battle gets the best dramatic exit award for his stormy stomp-off after the infamous brother-on-brother fight scene.
In Act II, Drew Kantonen is Noah and gives him a strong voice with a soft heart. And although his wife, played by Hope White, might not have as many lines as her on-stage husband, she knocked it out of the park with her singing voice. Another notable voice belonged to Kara Place as Yonah, forbidden love of Noah’s son.
It’s a tale as old as time: love and family, drama and dysfunction. It’s those universal themes that make “Children of Eden” a compelling story. Add to that snappy show tunes and cute little children dressed as bunny rabbits and turtles (two of each, naturally) and it’s pretty much a solid deal.
Shows are this weekend and next. For details on times and ticket prices, call 419-223-8866 or visit http://amiltellers.org.