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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Powerful Performances Bolster a Solemn
Paradise Lost at Intiman

Also see David's review of The Gypsy King

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow
Michael Mantell, Lori Larsen, Eric Pargac, Elise Karolina Hunt, Shawn Law
and Matt Gottlieb

Not a box-office powerhouse when Clifford Odets originally penned it during what I have come to think of as the first Great Depression, and not likely to be one during our current economic crisis, Paradise Lost is a bold choice of an opening volley for Intiman Theatre's new artistic director Kate Whoriskey to program as the opener of her first season succeeding Bart Sher. Under the earnest and measured direction of Dámaso Rodriguez, the play works best, as I suspect it always did, as an actor's showcase. Odets' 1936 play is not entirely humorless, but at three solemn acts and nearly three hours (with two intermissions) it is a challenge to embrace, even as you admire its strengths.

The play is set in the home of Leo Gordon and his family in an unnamed American city, and spanning a period from 1932 to 1935. Leo and his outspoken but loving wife Clara are happy and prosperous at the outset of the play, but in the course of the storytelling we see them lose their handbag business, and ultimately their home, as the depression takes its toll on Leo's children, business partner Sam, and others in their circle.

A cast of fourteen takes on some twenty or so roles, with standout performances coming from Michael Mantell, solidly underplaying the stoic Leo; Lori Larsen, the production's life-force as his wife Clara; Matt Gottlieb as the sympathetic Gus Michaels; Bradley Goodwill and Marty Mukhalian a study in mismatched mates as Leo's desperate business partner Sam and nervous wife Bertha; and the remarkable Herschel Sparber, a physically and dramatically dominating presence as the Gordon's communist jargon spouting boarder Mr. Pike. Shawn Law creates a complex portrait of the Gordon's son Ben, who must endure his childhood friend Kewpie (a stylized but magnetic Tim Gouran) not only cheating with Ben's wife (and Gus' daughter) Libby, but ultimately involving him in a crooked and ultimately fatal business dealing. Eric Pargac is moving as the sickly Julie Gordon, even when Odets leaves the character as a near mute cripple for the whole of act three. Erin Bennett as failed musician Pearl and Elise Carolina Hunt as Libby acquit themselves well enough in their sparsely developed roles.

Tom Buderwitz's set is a haunting emblem for the family's decline, as its tasteful furnishings and flourishes are stripped to a near barren shell by act three, with L.B. Morse's stark lighting design and Leah Piehl's understated costume design adding to the effectively solemn overall look of the production.

Paradise Lost reminds us of Odets' poetic skills and earnest intentions, but even in such a worthy production it falls short of the mark set by many of the playwright's rightly better known works such as Awake and Sing, The Country Girl or Golden Boy. And it's hard to imagine a depressed 2010 ticket buyer seeking out this play for an evening's entertainment.

Paradise Lost runs through April 25 at Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center; $25-$61 Call 206-269-1900 or visit www.intiman.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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