Paradise Lost Part 1: The Fall of Lucifer

John Milton, Adapted by Michael Barakiva
Red Bull Theater

Paradise Lost Credit: Red Bull Theatre

Nobody could ever accuse New York’s Red Bull Theater of lacking ambition. John Milton’s Paradise Lost is a truly epic poem, published in the year after The Great Plague and thus timely as we wage war against another.

Given a running time of around four hours, the creative team has wisely decided that the latest in their series of live Zoom readings should come in two parts delivered a fortnight apart. During the first part, the heavenly forces of good and evil battle (almost) to the death, although the title rather gives away the outcome.

It cannot be a coincidence that adapter / director Michael Barakiva has utilised gender-blind casting for the various supreme beings and angels but, when the war starts, the screen demonstrates that The Father, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, represented by Saidah Arrika Ekulona, and all of his good angels are portrayed by women, where Lucifer played by Jason Butler Harner and the powers of evil are male.

Harmony returns when, enthusiastically supported by Daniel José Molina as The Son, the paternal maker starts making, creating the earth and peopling it with the “Upstart Creatures” Adam then Eve portrayed by Sheldon Best and Gisela Chípe. At the same time, vanquished and “driven out from bliss”, the banished dark Angels plot to gain their revenge and leave hell to head back to their rightful place in heaven.

The parallel to the paradise on earth comes in the form of Satan (Jason Butler Harner), Sin (Carol Halstead) and Robert Cuccioli’s Death, each easily capable of making the average watcher’s flesh creep. The first part ends after a tempting meeting between Satan in serpent’s guise with Adam and Eve, the picture of innocence.

A large, impressively rehearsed cast (though occasionally too fond of the mute button) is well marshalled throughout, meaning that a text and plot that might easily have confused in this format come over with great clarity.

With over a dozen actors, it is impossible to single out each good performance but amongst the supporting cast Carol Halstead particularly catches the eye as an especially sexy, sinuous Sin, child of Satan, doubling the role with that of the Archangel Gabriel.

To find out what happens next in this morality tale, viewers will need to wait until 27 April (London time).

While all of Red Bull’s worthy online productions are offered free of charge, in order to fund them and keep the company running into the future, viewers are encouraged to make suitably generous donations.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher