Milton’s Paradise Lost
and thoughts about longevity
The story of the first couple has inspired many famous writers
By Byron Toben
In a recent article, I called attention to New York’s Red Bull Theater’s streamed reading of Part One of John Milton’s 1667 classic, Paradise Lost. That ended with Eve’s taking the bite. As with Part One, Part Two can be seen live on a PWYC basis on Monday, April 26 or, for a donation (unless you cannot at this time), the filmed version thereof until April 30.
Its Part Two is called Eve and Adam, a reversal of the usual billing of Adam and Eve. The story of the first couple has also inspired later famous writers.
From 1890 to 1905, Mark Twain churned out, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, as short stories, impishly adding to the title, “as translated by Mark Twain.”
In 1999, actor David Birney adapted Twain’s stories into a one-hour stage play, which he has performed often with his real-life wife, actress Meredith Baxter.
In 1920, G. Bernard Shaw completed his longest play (actually five plays in one), Back to Methuselah, which begins with Adam and Eve in the garden and ends about 5 hours later, in the year 31,920! (And we used to think that Buck Rogers in the 25th century was as far in the future that writers would go.)
Here in Canada, in 2001, Paul Van Dyke went the short route with his one-hour one-man show of Paradise Lost, and Erin Shields went with her more normal two-hour multiple-actor version. I once asked Paul if he would consider doing Milton’s 1671 sequel, Paradise Regained, which he declaimed. I have since researched it and found no other takers, and I can see why.
To wrap these derivative works, the shortest poem in history, Fleas (Adam Had’Em), was penned by who else but the New Yorker’s Ogden Nash, while the movies Adam’s Rib and All About Eve pursued other plots.
There have been many speculations in Latin, Greek, Slavonic and Armenian literature, about Adam and Eve’s expulsion having introduced death into human destiny. While Adam and his close descendants lived long lives, they were eventually topped by the aforesaid Methuselah, credited with 969 years.
In 1935, George and Ira Gershwin, in their jazz opera, Porgy and Bess, addressed the downside to such longevity with the song, It Ain’t Necessarily So, which refrained, “But who calls dat livin’, When no gal will give in, To no man what’s nine hundred years?”
Anyway, back to Milton from Methuselah. Comments by viewers who do get to view this Red Bull version are welcome. The best will receive three apples (the fruit, not the smartphone) and a few minutes of fame.
This past week
April 23 marked the anniversary of the ‘probable’ birthday of William Shakespeare. Probable because there is no documentation as to the exact date of his birth. However, there is a baptismal certificate and as baptisms were then conducted three days after birth, the math indicates April 23, born in 1564. He died in 1616 at age 52.
This coming week
Montreal’s annual Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival opened on April 24.
New York’s Mint Theater’s Lost Plays Found Here continues its archived full plays (sets, costumes, etc.) with A Picture of Autumn until June 13. No passwords needed, no fee (donations accepted) for this “silver lining series.”
The playwright, N.C, Hunter gave this play a one-night tryout in London’s West End in 1951. Although it was well-received, it was never picked up even though Hunter went on to success with several other plays in the 1950s. Mint revived it in New York 60 years later.
Feature image: Adam and Eve by Franz Von Stuck, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.