Yearning for God, Trying to Love My Neighbor, Making Theatre and Beauty, Building a Life...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Arcehtypal Eve: Hillary Stirling's Review of _Farewell to Eden_


A friend of mine, Hillary Stirling, and I have this tradition going where she reviews all the plays of mine that she attends and then I like to post them. I love her reviews because she always puts her "literary hat" on and gives a very thought provoking reflection on my texts, often dwelling on symbolism, theme, and archetype. So, although somewhat self serving, I'm posting her review here:   

I need to preface my comments on Farewell to Eden with a personal note. I’m not a fan of British period pieces. When I was forced to read Sense and Sensibility in college, I found myself bored to tears. After more than two hundred pages, I threw down the book in disgust, wishing that one of the characters would pull out a knife and stab someone just so the plot could go somewhere.  It was only my confidence in the playwright that convinced me to see Farewell to Eden, and I’m pleased to report that confidence was well-founded.  (I also add the disclaimer that my background is in literature rather than theater and, while the acting was skillful, my ignorance keeps me from complimenting it beyond that.)

Though a Victorian period piece, Farewell to Eden struck me as surprisingly Shakespearean. The lead character, Georgiana Highett, is a Beatrice without a Benedict, a sharp wit and sharp tongue and both equally untamable. The plot’s twists and turns balance the interpersonal explorations nicely, and not just because a dagger is actually involved this time. No character is allowed to remain flat and everyone, from the Highetts to the hired help to Darrel Fredericks, the requisite rake, sparkle with life on the stage. As simply entertainment, Farewell to Eden is engaging, well-written, and well worth the price of admission.

However, in my view, the mark of a literary masterpiece is that it can be enjoyed on multiple levels. I deal in archetypes, and their unexpected and skillful use in this play was a pleasant surprise.  When attempting to flatter and woo Georgiana, Darrel compares her to a Greek goddess, and she asks which one, prompting “Artemis, goddess of the hunt? Athena, goddess of wisdom?” and he replies, “Aphrodite, goddess of beauty.” I would answer, “None of the above.” If she is a Greek goddess Georgiana is Hera, the implacable queen of her domain who even boldly declares “God is not welcome in this house.”  At one point, she is likened to a queen while clothed in royal blue. There are hints of Persephone in her, though, the cold “mortician’s wife” who thaws to life over the course of the play.

Other archetypes are clearer and at one point become a sharp overlay on the story itself when the idyll unravels and the children of Edenbridge fall.  Georgiana and her sister Catherine both become Eve then; Catherine is the foolish, seduced Eve so often portrayed in Christendom and Georgiana the queenly Eve who, when faced with an impossible choice, makes it with tremendous courage, intelligence, and independence.

Perhaps the subtlest and most delightful archetype was Harold Lowe.  He is an elderly friend of the Highett’s deceased father, a powerful but kind figure who comforts them in their grief.  He is the only one Darrel (himself the archetypal serpent in Eden’s garden) is afraid of, and merely invoking Lowe’s power and protection was enough to shield the Highetts from mortal danger.  He is an archetypal savior-image, the cloaked power. If Georgiana is Eve, Lowe is Christ.

I could continue in this vein for quite a while, but I’ll end with one last observation regarding the power of this play to transport. At one point, the itinerant preachers and LDS (Mormon) apostles Brigham Young and John Taylor are invited into Edenbridge by Georgiana’s very irreverent brother Thomas. It was a surreal moment that would have been no less enjoyable than if a literal elephant had entered the room. The unapologetically-American Brigham in particular was a social bull in a china closet and, as God’s messengers to the peers of the Dashwoods and Bennetts, provided a fascinating foil to the social structure and stricture of British society.  I was even more pleased that the LDS element remained a foil and the play was not hijacked by it.  Perhaps most telling was that, even though I’m a devout Mormon, when the apostles appeared on the scene, I thought they were every bit as ridiculous as Georgiana did. It was jarring to realize just how far the play had lured me to step outside myself.

So even for one who doesn’t enjoy the genre, I thought Farewell to Eden was an engaging, entertaining, and intellectually stimulating play. Go see it!

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