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Children of Eden at Seacoast Repertory Theatre

I wanted to wait for it to close before posting my review of "Children of Eden" at Seacoast Rep in Portsmouth, NH.

My reasoning: I love this show. I love this theatre. And part of me felt, "If this production introduces new audiences to both of these things, why point out its plethora of flaws?"

But now that the final curtain has descended on this show, I wanted to express my feelings over a musical that means so much to me and, as far as Seacoast's multi-faceted version goes, clearly was a lot of work for the talented actors and crew to put together.

Many newcomers to COE will see this production, unaware how SRT "updated" it to be set in a futuristic lab where The Father (i.e. God) creates artificial beings named Adam and Eve, when the original version was straight outta' Eden.

Before I go further: I am not, generally speaking, a theatre purist; I welcome creative teams to put their own stamp on material that might be outdated or warrant some updating.

Turning this Bible story into a much more prescient one about AI is not lost on me. It still remains a parable of what it means to be human/alive, and even more so, what it means to be a family (specifically, a parent).

Yet, where the problem lies in this go-round is that SRT does not, in my opinion, carry the idea from start to finish. For instance: If, indeed, Adam and Eve are part robots (with costumes that resemble Iron Man's glowing heart thing), then how are their kids -- Cain and Abel -- and all the descendants thereafter, for all I could tell, completely human? This must be the case, because how else could Cain murder Abel, rather than just "break" him? Their costumes do not contain that magical, mechanical heart, so if SRT is going to bastardize the original concept by John Caird and Stephen Schwartz, more exposition needs to be added.

This, of course, one cannot legally do: Theatre licensing companies do not want a word changed, most of the time, or you will suffer heavy penalties. SRT's effort to fit their square peg into the original show's round hole only comes out half-complete as a result. SRT seemingly tried to skirt the issue by keeping all intact, except for the premise in which it makes sense.

Last year at this time, for the SRT's season opener, "Man of La Mancha," the set design included a wire fence enclosing the stage, to present a prison yard. The problem was that, for me, at least, it made seeing the actors and stage action much more difficult, a distraction not helped even by the raked seating of the auditorium. The same designers have returned for COE (so I guess I was in the minority of not being a fan of their work), and placed a large glass enclosure with half-walls at a 45-degree angle for most of the first act; the result is a limited line of sight 50% of the time if you are seated on house left or right (i.e. the cheap seats). Here, too, SRT seems to be focused more on style than substance.

What saves the show is what SRT couldn't change: Schwartz's score, which the prolific and accomplished composer has confessed is the favorite of his catalog. The actors (notably Ben Hart, who is also SRT's Artistic Director, as Father) and Alexandra Mullaney as Eve (playing across from her husband Sean Mullaney as Adam), turn in bravura performances despite the hindrances described; they clearly have chemistry. Alexandra's performance of the eleven o'clock number, the gospel-infused "Ain't It Good?" is the textbook definition of a showstopper. The ensemble, as well, is committed to their roles, each one interesting to watch for those moments when the aforementioned set centerpiece blocks your view of what's happening elsewhere on the stage.

It's only a shame that the directors chose to let the concept speak louder than the material itself, which needed no whimsy. After all, the show was only first produced in 1998, a mere 26 years ago. In other words, this needs modernization far less than any number of other shows I could name (but won't).

The heart of "Children of Eden" is the timelessness of the story and the sweeping beauty of the score, not the flashy cybernetic device that SRT tried to make it.

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