Arts from afar

My friend Sheldon Best playing the character of Adam who is pretty psyched to have been brought into existence inside the Garden of Eden. We were classmates at Brandeis and I have been so excited to watch his career grow since then.

You all know I enjoy theatre. I’ve posted about the shows I attend often enough. But during a pandemic…ugh. I want to support them and all, but to watch it on my TV is not even close to what I do it for. I’m so proud of Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Portland Center Stage for continuing to produce material and provide it to us in our homes. Still. I just haven’t got on board for a full dramatic production on my screen. I have not watched a single play.

Until this performance of Paradise Lost.

Between the dragon statues and the bird clock, below my Rhodesian plate and my CD collection (and more dragons), is my home theatre. This is an image of the screen during intermission.

Maybe I won’t buy tickets to support a whole theatre project, but I apparently will support specific people. Two of them in this case. I have an actor friend who I met in college. His name is Sheldon Best and I think his work is outstanding, and he’s also a super sweet, amazingly generous and kind person. The other actor, Daniel José Molina, is not a friend but someone I spotted at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Daniel’s work mesmerized me, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I follow them both on Instagram. One day, Sheldon posted a little blurb about this upcoming performance and I checked it out, and I was all, “Holy Moly! BOTH of them are in it!” I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited. So I bought tickets.

Red Bull Theatre is actually offering the performance for free, but is asking for donations, which of course I agree with. The performance of Part I was on April 12, and Part II was last night. The live version was on the two Mondays, where I could stream the performance on my TV and then interact with other viewers on my phone. Like so many of our video experiences these days, there was a running commentary scrolling away during the entire performance, so I got to exclaim “out loud” in that way, when I wanted to react. Yo, if you look right now, Part II is still on YouTube for a couple days.

This is Adam and Eve with ShapeDivine (God), in the Garden of Eden. I friggin love that they cast Saidah Arrika Ekulona as God the Father.

The actors introduced themselves in the beginning, and were Zooming in from all around the country, which was pretty cool. I soon discovered that the backgrounds were used to set the scene, just like background are used on stage. With greenery you see above to represent the Garden of Eden, a black and red jagged background to show Hell, and my favourite of all was the top of a gold escalator surrounded by clouds that represented Heaven.

Oh. I should mention the story itself, if you haven’t guessed the gist of it by now. The poet John Milton wrote the epic Paradise Lost in 1667. It’s a detailed look at what the heck God was up to when she created things, her relationship with Jesus, the first humans, with Lucifer and all the angels. It’s Milton’s attempts to explain and justify it all, missing, perhaps, the hubris that he felt he was the man to provide an explanation on God’s behalf. There was some annoying “delicate female” stuff in there, but Gisela Chipe did a great job of making the role powerful and dignified despite the script’s tired stereotypes. It was billed as a “reading” and not a play, so there wasn’t much moving around, most of the story relied on voices and faces, and subtle clothing and hair changes.

Satan (played excellently by Jason Butler Harner) is in Hell, conspiring with the rebel angels.
Satan – that rascal – influencing Adam and Eve.
God having a meeting with Jesus and her top angels, Raphael and Michael. Isn’t this Heaven background a riot?

There were some glitches, but you guys, we forgive the glitches now, don’t we? One of the bad angels didn’t unmute at first, Satan had a random sunbeam creep across his face as the hour progressed, a couple of the actors stared at the screen to interact with each other instead of staring at the camera – who can blame them, it’s what they’re trained to do! Two years ago I would have thought this was too distracting and the picture quality too bad and the weirdness of people in different states acting as though they are together would have been too much to deal with. But last night, I was delighted to watch Part II.

Here they are on screen together!! So exciting for this fan. Insert star-eyes emoji here.
Here, The Son is NOT happy with Eve, Adam, or that sneaky Serpent. He comes up with some pretty vicious punishments, like the pain of childbirth. Really Jesus? That was just mean. Look at Eve’s face: she realizes she bears the brunt of the anger.
Adam is so mad at Eve, “Look what you made me do!” Eve loves him and is sorry he is cast out of the Garden too, but says, “Whoah, dude. You made your own decision.”
Carol Halstead was deliciously Sinful, and practically bounced with eagerness when she got to help Satan. Here, she is chatting with Death and Dischord. All them look too happy to be so wicked.

It was a fun show and while nothing like the real thing, it did feel good to be experiencing acting again. Funny the things we assume we can’t pick up from a screen, that it turns out we can pick up after all.

One last thing before I go, since we’re on the topic of The Arts. Long ago I posted about a freezing cold day in Baltimore. I included my photos like always. Earlier this year, the artist Marc Andre Robinson wanted to submit a particular sculpture for a publication called TOHO Journal, but had no photos of it. He went online and searched his own work and …viola! He found my blog post. I received a message from him in the comments of a post and we connected. I checked around a little to see if he was really who he said he was, then sent off two original sized images of the sculpture so he could use them in his submission. His work was accepted and the beautiful, published book came out a couple months ago. As a thank you, Marc made sure I got one, which I recently received.

How cool is this?! Marc Andre Robinson’s sculpture of Frederick Douglass, called Fred Head. Photo by me!
This is the cover of the TOHO Journal. It’s a beautiful, bound book filled with art.

9 thoughts on “Arts from afar

    1. It was fun, Curt. I’m glad I had these two in an online performance so that I was finally convinced to watch one. I have watched my friend Jamie perform in online stand up comedy with his team at Portland Comedy Sportz multiple times, but this was my first live dramatic performance via TV.

      1. I’ve done so little to take advantage of on-line entertainment, Crystal. I know that there is a whole world out there. Having a totally full-life may be a factor. 🙂

  1. This is extra cool, that he found you and you could help him out with your photos!! Makes it all so worthwhile. ❤ I never had anything like that happen. Still hoping Ms. Winterson would find somehow my open letter to her. But neither anybody has complained of a bad translation job, since I (used to) translate Slovenian poets and songs into English. 😀 And I'm really glad that you got to see two favourites together on your lovely big screen surrounded by dragons. 🙂

  2. My WP dream used to be getting onto Freshly Pressed, but that doesn’t pop open as my home page anymore, so I imagine it’s not such a reader boost as it used to be. I hope Mrs. Winterson finds your post too. It is wonderful. It’s a heartfelt love letter. I guess, more than one. ❤ Did you translate for employment? I seem to recall something like this from you, but the details are fuzzy.

      1. After I wrote this, I tried to find Freshly Pressed and couldn’t, so your intel is probably right. You ARE a translator! That is super friggin cool.

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