“Children of Eden” brings Genesis to life

By Jessica Troland

Flickr/Sebastian Bergmann

Flickr/Sebastian Bergmann

“Children of Eden,” a two-act stage production performed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday by the student-run UMass Theater Guild, succeeded admirably in realizing its ambitious premise. Directed by Samantha Mandeville, a senior history major, the show presented a perfect combination of comedy, drama and musical melodies.

The show, with music and lyrics penned by Stephen Schwartz, is adapted from the first nine chapters of Genesis. The first act is comprised of the story of Adam and Eve, and the second is based off of the story of Noah and the Flood.

Father, as the characters in the play refer to God, was played this past weekend by Ron Vorce. Opening the show with the song “Let There Be,” Vorce overtook the audience with his impressive vocals and imposing stage presence. His Storytellers accompanied him on the chorus of the song, dancing along to modern style choreography.

Adam and Eve, played by Elliot Bruce and Lisa Bettencourt, respectively, made for a comedic duo during the first act. “Madame, I’m Adam” had audiences laughing as the pair set a lighthearted, humorous tone to the show. At the moment of the happy couple’s tragic turn, Bruce was able to masterfully convey Adam’s painful decision between love and faith in the heart-wrenching “A World Without You.”

One infamous biblical banishment later, the audience was treated to young Cain and Abel, played by the adorable Caleb Ireland and Itai Zilberstein, both 10 years old and students at a local elementary school. The dynamic duo stole audience members’ hearts during their time onstage.

The act closed with the powerful titular musical number, “Children of Eden,” a plea for forgiveness by Eve addressed to the children of Eden (i.e. all of humanity). The voices of the Storytellers and Eve are powerful and moving, blending all the emotion reached in the first act with potent complexity.

As the second act opened, the somber mood was wiped clean, giving the show a fresh start into the story of Noah with the uplifting and upbeat song “Generations.” Noah, played by Alan Couture, was a first-time member of the UMTG. However, no one would have been able to guess that it was Couture’s first time on the UMTG stage. His vocals were powerful yet gentle, and his broad smile betrayed a sturdy confidence in his role as Noah.

Jumping through narrative time in broad strokes, the play soon introduced Japheth, one of Noah’s sons. Japheth was played by Luke Baker, who ably portrayed his character’s tragic, forbidden love with Yonah, a daughter of the race of Cain. Here, once again, the play depicted a painful decision forced between family and faith. Act two resolved on a joyous note with the upbeat song “Ain’t it Good,” which was sung beautifully by Mama Noah, played by Emily Henrickson.

Yonah, played by Dayna Fisk, also had her share of powerful songs in the second act, leaving a breathless impression with her performances of “Stranger to the Rain” and “Sailor of the Skies,” the latter of which included a gorgeous dance routine by Lisa Bettencourt, who played Eve in the first act.

Through a concerted effort by cast members, live musical accompaniment, set designers, lighting and sound crews, the show radiated with student talent. Stage direction and design favored simplicity for this student-run production. The simplicity of the set design allowed audience members to interpret the staging creatively, and the simplicity of the costume design allowed the focus to stay on the performances of the actors rather than the ornateness of the costumery.

An extremely clever and creative moment of minimalist stage direction came in the first act, where the snake tempts Eve. Instead of giving the audience a literal snake to look at, the snake was formed by several dancers in identical costumes, all moving in sync to a slithering choreography.

“The show doesn’t harp on God or praying,” said Mandeville. The production at no point scolded its audience members into a life of piety, instead electing to demonstrate the values of love and family through the actions of its characters. “It’s about the consequences from the actions we make. Learn from your past; never forget your past,” said Mandeville, summing up the theme of the show. The show made the biblical stories personable for audiences, intimately immersing a relatable sense of morality into the lives of each of the characters.

Jessica Troland can be reached at [email protected]