Saturday, March 27, 2010

Paradise Lost - Intiman Theatre

Paradise Lost
Intiman Theater
March 19-April 25, 2010
Tickets and Information

Playwright Clifford Odets is perhaps best known for his explosively powerful one-act playWaiting for Lefty, a short show that packs an obvious political punch. Paradise Lost is a very different play, but equally powerful, and—in a less severe way—just as political. This play has three full acts, each one a slice of time within the Gordon household in the early 1930s, as we see the effects of the Great Depression hitting hard on a family—two parents, two brothers and a sister—and their friends and enemies who come in and out of the house and their lives.

Director Dámaso Rodriguez, in a rare move, lets the play move as slowly and gently as it needs to. In a couple places, moments lag; but overall, the realism of the pace adds to the weight of the play, and gives a better balance to the heightened instances of anger or passion. Every member of the large ensemble cast delivers precision performances, tuned to each other and the quiet urgency of the story unfolding onstage. One standout is Lori Larsen as Clara, the mother and wife of the Gordon family; Larsen's resigned practicality offers some of the most humorous and also most touching moments of the play.

Michael Mantell (Leo Gordon), Lori Larsen (Clara Gordon), Eric Pargac(Julie Gordon), Elise Karolina Hunt (Libby Michaels), Shawn Law (Ben Gordon) and Matt Gottlieb (Gus Michaels) in Paradise Lost. Photo by Chris Bennion.

Tom Buderwitz's scenic design takes advantage of Intiman's high ceilings and large space; what begins as a fully realistic living room moves upward into abstract shapes and hanging pianos past the second floor, opening the Gordons' story outward toward the rest of the world. L.B. Morse' lighting is, as always, subtle and evocative; afternoons move slowly into evenings, and—like the set—light is used to widen the reach of the story, spreading it out toward us.

This is, perhaps, an obvious choice of play, given the subject matter—the Great Depression—and our current economic situation, which many fear is far too close to the 1930s. It is unsurprising and yet still disquieting to hear characters written seventy years ago voicing economic fears and philosophies we could hear today on any news channel in the country. Obvious or not, the play is undoubtedly timely, perhaps disturbingly so. For that reason alone it would be worthwhile to see this rarely produced classic by an American master playwright, and the excellence of this production makes it especially rewarding.

As new Artistic Director Kate Whoriskey steps into Bart Sher's shoes, Seattle will be waiting to see what directions she takes the theater in. This reviewer hopes that Paradise Lost is an indication of what is to come; Intiman is at its best when producing large but intimate American classics like this play, and I hope to see many more of its kind in the coming seasons.

Review by Kenna Kettrick

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