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Paradise Lost

Aug. 16th, 2009 | 12:40 pm

Ashland, Oregon
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
From left, Pike (Mark Murphey), Leo Gordon (Michael J. Hume), and Gus Michaels (Richard Elmore) toast the good old days. Photo: Jenny Graham. Paradise Lost by Clifford Odets

Oh, damn! Another performance ranking Production: Good, Play: Awful.

I was happily anticipating this Depression Era play directed by the same Libby Appel who resurrected  A View from the Bridge and provided an important and satisfying show last year.

That Arthur Miller "period piece" was heartbreakingly current. 

Unhappily, this year's model resonates with 2009 with shared bad economic times, but it clunks down the street alone with Odets' polemics and immutable characters.

The winning philosophical views of life in Paradise are those of an embittered communist-sounding furnace repairman, Mr. Pike played by Mark Murphey, and the budding gangster Kewpie (Mark Bedard).  These are the two whose world views prevail at the end of the play. Kewpie is an action guy, and so Odet gives Pike the coherent, detailed, eyes-open commentary on the state of the world.

And the state of Pike's and Odet's world is grim, grim, grim.  One-dimensional, simplistic, revolutionary,  grindingly grim. Worse, everything that happens in the play reinforces and proves the correctness of the bleakness. 

Still worse, Odet wrote this polemic in the 30's only to renounce his politics and name names during the 1950's Communist witch hunts.  So, not only are we listening to dated "The Decay of Capitalism" crap, it's crap which the author himself later disowned.  It would have been a kindness to kill this play at the when the revolutionary spirit of the playwright died.

Yeah, I will also admit that part of my unhappiness with Paradise is that some part of me wants a happy -- or at least hopeful -- ending.  Spolier alert!  You won't even get a possibility of an uplifting breeze at the end of this puppy.

So, what's to like in this Paradise?  The set, the clothes, and most of the acting. 
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Define Paradise Lost: a play selection failure.  A disappointing use of design, direction, and acting talent.

Ozdachs Rating: 2 Syntaxes out of 5

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