FESTIVAL OF INDEPENDENT THEATRES
Directed by Susan Sargeant
Costume Design by Barbara C. Cox
Sound design/Photography/Images by Lowell Sargeant
Adam – Austin Tindle
Eve – Catherine D. DuBord
Reviewed Performance 7/19/2014
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
“Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.” - from Adam’s Diary.
Twain had an interest in the story of Adam and Eve as far back as 1893 when he was writing calendar maxims for Pudd’nhead Wilson, where the couple from Eden appears. After that, he began writing extracts from Adam’s Diary and followed that with Eve’s Diary, first published in the 1905 Christmas issue of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, and in book format in June of 1906. One of a series of books Twain wrote about Adam and Eve, her diary has a lighter tone than Extracts from Adam’s Diary, That Day in Eden, Eve Speaks, Adam’s Soliloquy or The Autobiography of Eve. Often called a tribute to his late and beloved wife, Twain’s Adam and Eve tale has been dramatized many times for the stage and has been recorded and adapted for TV. Director Susan Sargeant has done her own editing and adaptation of Twain’s Adam and Eve diaries for the current FIT production with her WingSpan Theatre Company.
Against a beautiful projection of a broad walkway amidst thick trees, Ms. Sargeant begins the show with a prologue set in what appears to be the present day. Austin Tindle holds a diary, dressed contemporarily, but much as Twain dressed, in white fedora and white, pin-striped suit with bow tie. He speaks of women, and the First Woman in particular, as Catherine DuBord appears with a baby in a sling across her breasts, also dressed in contemporary clothes. It’s a lovely, effective opening and the language reflects Twain’s style so if Ms. Sargeant wrote some of it, kudos to her!
The back wall projection changes to the garden of Eden, with two benches upstage and two down, and an upstage ladder hidden by a black curtain leg. Baskets under the benches holding props and gorgeous photos of trees attached to the four playing area columns complete the simple but effective set, thanks to the skill and artistry of Lowell Sargeant.
Into this paradise wanders Adam, also played by Mr. Tindle, now clad in a flesh-colored bodysuit painted with leaves. He too holds a diary and speaks directly to the audience as he writes, sometimes stopping to contemplate or comment in an aside. Mr. Tindle radiates Adam as a self-satisfied, completely fulfilled man with his every facial expression and body movement, walking around the stage, taking it all in with confidence and looking very pleased with all he sees – and with himself!
As he exits, Ms. DuBord enters as Eve, almost flying in, youth and energy in her every muscle, also wearing a nude bodysuit painted with leaves. Fluttering behind her, she holds a blue scarf that throughout the play becomes a myriad of things, from water to fish to children. It’s a brilliant conceit that works better than any mere pantomime or actual prop ever could.
What follows is a reenactment of Twain’s writing, filled in by Ms. Sargeant and the actors with direct dialogue to each other, overlapping of their lines, and wonderful reactions. Holding it all together are extraordinarily fluid movements from both the performers. They are seldom still and constantly changing position and movement, especially at the beginning. Ms. Sargeant and the actors created the movement and it pays off in a visually-represented choreography of relationship without turning into an actual dance. The actors carry it off well and their characters draw strength from the movement and spatial pairings they create. Ms. DuBord earns the final epitaph with her grace and inner strength and Mr. Tindle shows us Adam’s road to manhood by carefully adding mannerisms and reactions as the story unfolds.
Mr. Sargeant’s projections, ambient sound effects, music and the uncredited lighting changes keep the play as fluid as the actor’s movements. The entire production is well-conceived, confident and professional, with wonderful moments, such as Adam first becoming sexually aware of Eve as a woman, Ms. DuBord’s handling of the scarf/baby/child, and the devastating death and burial of Abel. Costumes by Barbara C. Cox, simple as they are, fit the director’s vision and work well for the actors’ movement and progression.
Catherine DuBord and Austin Tindle are in steady control, not only of their bodies but also their characters’ emotional journeys. The chemistry between the couple, so important in this story, is palpable and works to enhance the tale. If at first, Ms. DuBord tries a little too hard to be “fresh and new,” it doesn’t affect the impact, and the transitions later in the story as things become more serious are handled well by both actors. The ending exchange is especially poignant and the final, wonderful epitaph quoted at the top of this review is delivered with great pathos and simplicity.
The Diaries of Adam and Eve reflects the roles of women and men at the time of its writing, and perhaps these roles have persisted in some form because, like most clichés, they are based on deeper, ingrained truths. Men and women ARE different! The author embraces the inherent differences in the story but also celebrates them in a manner non-threatening to our modern ears and eyes. This writing by Mark Twain has always been one of my personal favorites, and if you like it too, you won’t want to miss this lovely, heartfelt production now playing as part of the FIT at the Bathhouse.