Friday, June 29, 2007

Theater Review: Ciao Eden!

Young theater company tries to give new life to an old, old story

By Tyera Eulberg

Adam, Eve, the Garden, the Fall—the Biblical story of the birth of humanity has been retold for thousands of years. And as anyone in a Shakespeare production will tell you, it’s not easy to impress with a story everyone already knows. Nevertheless, Company Ink tries to make the Creation story new again through energy and sheer force of will.

Ciao Eden! follows Adam and Eve from their days of innocence in the Garden of Eden on a loud and lascivious journey to the end of their paradise when they taste the apples of the Tree of Knowledge. Company Ink recalls its traditions as a cabaret-style troupe, structuring this first-ever theatrical musical like a revue. Song and dance alternate with dialog and action.

The music frequently departs from the typical Broadway style—the most memorable pieces are a gypsy waltz and West African drumming. Kim Franco is capable—she plays Eve and is Company Ink’s headlining vocalist, as she was for the late, lamented Cabaret Diosa. But the jazz number by Serena the Snake (our original temptress and villain, played by Liza Oxnard) really enlivens the first act.

With minimalist costumes and sets, and a steel Tree of Life and Knowledge, Company Ink strives to update Eden in our gritty modern era. The Tree succeeds—green-clad Serena winds herself into the framework, evoking both a convincing snake and a trap ready to spring shut. Otherwise, “modern” means garish. The extremely loud sound system and writhing dancers give Ciao Eden! all the subtlety of a circus tent.

On the one hand, the production doesn’t take itself too seriously, offering up groan-worthy one-liners as well as a vigorous shadow-play sex scene after the First Couple eat from the Tree of Life. Yet the dark, heavy scenes as Eve learns about fear, pain and anger, plus several minutes of Eve crying onstage, suggest that Company Ink means it to be very somber indeed.

Then, even the most archetypal characters flip-flop. The Snake, for example, is hissing and hostile one moment and Eve’s caring confidante the next. Meanwhile, the esoteric Muses mystify more than inspire (like Serena in the play, I too wondered what the Muses were supposed to do). The result is a mish-mash of tones and themes, leaving the audience perplexed as to how to feel. Should we feel sorry for Eve? Are we proud of her self-actualization? Or should we feel trapped and uncomfortable about the fatalism of it all? I almost miss the rigid “Good and Evil” moral pronouncements of the Biblical version.

Yet Adam and Eve are ultimately the same Adam and Eve we’ve always known. “Man,” enters with a primal roar, focusing on the “biggest and juiciest” fruit. “Woman” sins, forcing Adam to eat the apple too. Company Ink tells us the same familiar story. But with in-your-face enthusiasm and one jazzy little orchestra, the young cast of Ciao Eden! certainly makes you listen.

(Note: Despite what newspaper listings advertise, this production is not suitable for 13-year-old children.)

Ciao Eden! at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St. :: June 29 & 30, 8pm; July 1, 2pm

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