Paradise Lost and Found|
by Steven Robert Allen
When I think of Mark Twain, I think of a man who fell out of love with the world, a brilliant comic writer whose wit turned cynical in his final years because he came to resent both man and God for making human life unbearable. As it turns out this image of old man Twain isn't entirely accurate.
Twain wrote the diaries of Adam in 1892 and the diaries of Eve in 1905. The latter is modeled after his beloved wife Livy, whose death in 1903 crushed Twain utterly. The play takes these writings and combines them together with Adam and Eve texts published in The Bible According to Mark Twain. The result is a cohesive piece that works better on stage than it ever did on the page. Twain himself, who wanted the diaries to be published together but never saw his dream realized, would love the way this play brings his work together.
What the audience gets is a window onto the world's very first screwed-up marriage. Though Twain was hardly known for his female characters, he gets it right in his highly sympathetic portrayal of Eve. It's rare to see gender relations treated so accurately or sweetly. The power of Twain's love for his wife glows from the beginning of the play to the end. Eve might talk too much; she might look at her reflection in the water too often; she might even be a little bossy and egotistical. But while Adam is sitting in a tree scratching his arm pits, it's Eve who gives names to all the animals, who discovers fire, who domesticates the wolf (and attempts to domesticate the brontosaurus), who inquiries into the nature of existence with a curious and scientific mind.
This Vortex production, directed by Lane Lucas, translates Twain's translation admirably. Lupin Byers' Eve may be a little too earnest, but Mark Chavez does an especially impressive job as the lazy, dense, amiable Adam. What makes Chavez's performance so effective is his understanding that Twain's Adam is not a portrait of a distant, archaic Biblical archetype, but an image of modern man, perplexed and annoyed by his mate's behavior, yet ultimately unable to live without her.
The Diaries of Adam and Eve is a love story, a coming together between woman and man in the face of divine condemnation. In the end, Adam acknowledges that though Eve might frequently be a royal pain in the ass, he would rather spend his life outside of paradise with her than inside paradise without her. As he says near the end of the play, "Wheresoever she went, there was Eden."
That's close enough to paradise for anyone.
The Diaries of Adam and Eve, translated by Mark Twain, directed by Lane Lucas, runs through Jan. 23 at the Vortex Theatre. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. $9 general, $8 students/seniors. Sundays at 6 p.m. $7. 247-8600.