Oakland Theater Project’s new ‘Eden’ is big in every way

Oakland Theater Project's new 'Eden' is big in every way

Oakland Theater Project co-artistic director Michael Socrates Moran has directed many exhilarating productions for the company. He’s occasionally performed in them as an actor as well. But “Exodus to Eden,” OTP’s latest production, casts Moran in a new role — that of playwright.

Written and directed by Moran, this new play is at once a love letter to the theater company members and a modern mythical epic.

On the latter level it’s often perplexing, as ambitious as it is abstruse. But in the former sense it’s beautifully successful, giving every member of the 17-person ensemble at least occasional moments to shine.

Loosely inspired by “The Grapes of Wrath” (which Moran directed for OTP in 2016), “Angels in America” and the biblical Book of Exodus, the script is packed with earnest mystical proclamations and prognostications as well as references to opioid addiction, COVID and climate change.

A large group of unhoused people embark on a hard journey from Oakland to Oklahoma by foot chasing the promise of shelter in the form of a large house that belongs to the family of their seeming leader, Awele Makeba’s strong, no-nonsense Mary. Almost everyone in the party has lost a child through various calamities, though we hear only tiny fragments of their individual woes.

The world may or may not already have come to an end. Those gathered have no access to transportation and encounter hardly anyone along the way, and catastrophic weather greets them at every turn, but there are snippets of newscasts and references to the internet and the prospect of food at a gas station along the way.

The story centers around Miriam, Mary’s estranged daughter, who’s pregnant, drug-addicted and breaking her parole for something or other. Played with sharp-tongued defiance by Arielle Powell, she’s also been thrust in the role of the savior or the doom (or both) of the pilgrims and maybe also the world.

We shift in and out of Miriam’s dreams, a subtle distinction and increasingly one without much difference, marked mostly by color shifts in Stephanie Anne Johnson’s lighting and the presence of mythic characters who aren’t around in the waking world.

Adam KuveNiemann is sinisterly smirking and snarky as The Man, a Mephistophelean figure in a tux who’s also, well, The Man. It’s not entirely clear what he represents even though it’s practically all he ever talks about, but it’s seemingly the grotesque side of the American Dream, capitalist White male supremacy and everything that’s rigged in favor of the rich and powerful in this country. And for reasons of his own he wants Miriam’s baby, plying her with vague promises of deliverance and even vaguer threats of doom to sign the child over to him as some kind of sacrifice to The System.

In her dreamscape there are also angels, who have fallen on hard times for reasons unknown. One serene but weary angel played by Nkechi Live sings sweetly over the sleeping Miriam and hauls around a small tree with roots bound in a sack. Her beautiful wings, designed by Marina Polakoff, have “Ubuntu” (the company’s former name) painted on the back in colorful graffiti-like letters. Samuel Barksdale portrays a jittery angel in coveralls with black-and-white wings with newsprint patterns, who patrols the perimeter with a gun and goggles.

Soruce : https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/02/10/review-oakland-theater-project-revisits-eden-in-a-big-show-with-big-ideas/

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