reading ruminations: paradise lost

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Paradise Lost [reading]

By Clifford Odets
Staged by Allie Mulholland
Featuring Angelica Page (Angelica Torn), Shelley Valfer, Angelo Angrisani
ReGroup Theatre Company at The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W 22nd
production web site: 
http://regrouptheatre.org/News_and_Events.html

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
July 18, 2011 [one night only]

  • “It is not natural for people to starve while the means of production are close to hand.”
  • “You’re a liar and a traitor to your own heart story.”
(L-R) Allie Mulholland, Kelsey Moore, Timothy Winert. Crop of photo art by Brett Wexler.

Paradise Lost by Clifford Odets and this week’s staged reading by the stalwart ReGroup Theatre Company gives us, in sometimes haranguing but deftly crafted characters and dialogue, three acts filled with the urban American worker’s experience deep into the economic Depression of the 1930s.  In 1954’s film version of A Star is Born, Oliver Niles (head of a motion picture studio) says of the now hollow acting talent of a once major studio star “years of steady drinking will do that to a man”.  In Paradise Lost we watch over the course of some months the cumulative effect of steady unemployment on a set of characters who live in or pass through a single household.  Months and years of steady unemployment (or under-employment) can do many things to men and women.  This is our story.

Two families and several additional characters live in a single household at the core of our story.  Clara (Angelica Page) and Leo (Shelley Valfer) attempt to keep the dreams of their family alive, through Leo’s faltering factory business, and Clara and Leo’s three children including pianist daughter Pearl (Rachel Casparian), mysteriously ailing son Julie (Jack Gilbert), and carefree, soon to wed then frustrated in marriage Ben (Allie Mulholland).  Ben marries Libby (Kelsey Moore), a gal with a past, who continues to carry on with Kewpie (Timothy Winert), who always has money through perhaps shady dealings with shady characters.  More relatives population the stage and men from the factory debate labor and society and fair wages for hard work.  The issues of this play are intimate and social — how are the needs of the workers and the means of working to be organized to maximize the well-being of the country?  The issues of 1935 in this play are ripped from today’s headlines, as are the scripted images of an evicted family’s belongings out on the street.

I am incredibly moved by this reading and these performances. Angelica Torn quietly rips my heart out in the last act as a mother pleading with a father to do what is right for their children. All of these actors are doing incredible work in the family they are building as the ReGroup Theatre, dedicated to keeping alive the work of the Group Theatre, and so much more.  The company is planning for their first full production in October 2011 — Claire and Paul Siftons’ 1931.  Stay tuned.

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 22, 2011)

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