Filmmakers. Novelists. Musical theater composers. Countless artists has taken their shot at retelling the “greatest story ever told,” but few have surpassed the 17th-century poet John Milton with his epic Paradise Lost, which focuses simultaneously on the angel Lucifer’s fall from heaven and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
Unfortunately, Tom Dulack neither wins, places or shows in this already crowded race with his new play of the same name, now being presented by the Fellowship for Performing Arts at Theatre Row. Instead, by changing stylistic lanes constantly in his approach to this familiar material – veering from public school pageantry to Shakespearean grandiosity to Buschian camp – Dulack frequently leaves his audience in the dust.
Moreover, if it weren’t for the valiant efforts of his six-person cast, the entire enterprise might come up completely lame. Luckily, these committed actors appear to have done everything director Michael Parva has asked of them, if not more. First and foremost among these players is the beguiling Marina Shay as the sweet yet proto-feminist Eve, who insists on her right to make her own decisions – from naming the animals to biting that forbidden apple – no matter the cost. It’s one of the most winning performances currently on the Off-Broadway stage.
She’s nicely matched by the appealing Robbie Simpson as the love-struck, ultra-innocent Adam. (Sydney Maresca seems to aim for modesty in Simpson’s costume, but the outfit proves oddly misconceived.) Meanwhile, the veteran actor Mel Johnson Jr. brings true gravitas to the couple’s protector, the archangel Gabriel, speaking his lines with the kind of elocution every performer should aspire to. So does the very fine David Andrew MacDonald, who captures both the righteous indignation and seductiveness of the revenge-seeking Lucifer.
On hand for comic relief are the always delicious Alison Fraser as Sin, the exasperated wife and daughter of Lucifer, spewing out her well-timed barbs with her signature go-for-a-laugh delivery. Lastly, the underused Lou Liberatore channels a mixture of Al Pacino and Garry Shandling as Lucifer’s befuddled second-in-command Beelzebub, making the most of his few moments onstage.
With this much talent on the stage, Paradise Lost ultimately registers not as a successful retelling of the oft-told tale (as intended), but as a lost opportunity to bring The Bible blazingly to life.