What is love? Is it an instantaneous sensation, a type of enveloping magic felt upon putting eyes on “The One”? Is it a subtle realization, not quite understood until we sense we need “The One” as much as air or food or water? For all the fundamental differences within humanity, love is the one thing we all share. It’s the subject matter Keepin’ On Productions focuses on quite eloquently with “The Diary of Adam and Eve.” It’s a play so moving, it brought this humble critic to tears.
Having opened last weekend and continuing its run through the next two weeks at Cape Fear Playhouse, the production is not just a “must see,” it’s a “don’t miss.” The play shows what theatre can accomplish because it is why theatre is done.
Adapted for the stage by Wilmington theatre’s own Renaissance man, Anthony Lawson, the local writer, director and actor used the works of Mark Twain to shape what is, for all intent and purposes, the world’s first romantic comedy. He takes the audience all the way back to the … well, to the beginning of time. Yeah, it’s that Adam (Brendan Carter) and that Eve (Susan Auten) who are being followed—the first two people on Earth, in the Garden of Eden, at the Tree of Knowledge, eating the Forbidden Apple, and all that jazz.
When the house opens, the audience is welcomed into the garden and it’s a paradise to see. Eden’s scenic design is so detailed in an outstanding paint job by Donna Troy that it creates a pleasant sense of peace. It utilizes every inch of the stage and transforms into a wondrous and vast forest.
Grass is painted onto the floor and spreads out to under the first row of seats, while trees grow strong in the foreground of the set and begin to peter off into shadows in the distance. The elements all perfectly encapsulate the viewer into the world of the play. The paint covers a very open set, with entrances and exits coming from all corners to create a vast forest. Scott Davis has worked magic with the simplicity of it all to craft a real outdoor world.
The pacing is incredibly quick and funny, and never gives in fully to satire. Religion isn’t an important factor; these characters are used more to show that, even from the dawn of time. Broken up in a back-and-forth style, each character delivers monologues depicting the everyday, joyous life in Eden, and the constant hardships they face once they’re outcasts. They recount entries from their leather-bound diaries, which start from the first day they’re alive. Auten sums up hers with such a childlike sense of wonder, as she makes the proclamation, “I’m a whole day old!” On the last day of life, Carter lets out a pain only learned through age, with the realization, “Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.”
They both grow into themselves and into a relationship in the newly minted world over a full lifetime and it is beautiful to witness. Adam and Eve don’t interact with each other too often; yet, Auten and Carter create a powerful connection with their knowing looks—a palpable, silent communication. The two leads morph the known figures into modern-day real people and bare fruit on what true love means.
In the beginning, the stage manager utters the famous words, “Let there be light,” and the show begins with Carter’s Adam rising from the dust. He is fresh to this unnamed world, ready to set off and explore, to catalogue it, and to name all the creatures which roam it. Carter gives the role an Indiana Jones or Reed Richards energy, with a gnawing need to understand what is around him. A human personification of charisma, he bounds across the stage and embodies an analytical outlook of a scientist. His expressive face runs the gambit of emotion, from exhaustion he endures at Eve’s unending and unasked help during his “experiments,” to the slight cast of a caring eye toward her in what has become a cultivated love on a quiet day. It’s awesome work from a hardworking actor. He also compels the audience with laughter, especially during his scene of perplexity at what a baby could be; it is the stuff of comedy gold.
Susan Auten is an actress who has brought to life countless roles across all of Wilmington stages, ranging from light-hearted in “His Girl Friday” to heartbreaking with “The Mercy Seat.” In each role she conquers, it becomes clear Auten as been preparing for the likes of Eve. The greatest compliment I believe one can pay an actor is that, while they portrayed a role, they owned it. Auten is Eve; she walks the tightrope of comedy and tragedy so seamlessly, it’s like she wasn’t even playing a part at all. She manages to bring out the deepest belly laughs from the simplest moments. Her excitement over finally naming the odd thing in the trees, an exclamation of “monkey!”, will stay with me forever.
Matching the pendulum swing of intensity, when she is confronted with the existence of death, her pleas for her son to wake up are truly haunting and painful. Auten cradles the audience to her and creates an empathic bond, so when she wins, the audience wins, and when she breaks, we all break. Auten crafts a fully formed character and cements herself as one of the best actresses to grace a Wilmington stage.
The production’s director, Steve “Hey, Baby” Vernon, has orchestrated a masterful play, and at the starting gun, it exacts a rampant stride. Still, it manages to properly slow or more apt to say, “age,” as the play progresses to its climax. At its start, it bounces around like an 8-year-old on Halloween on a sugar high—with our leads having to see everything, know everything, and question everything in Act 1. It’s reshaped through Act 2, to show acceptance of the world we live in, how it works, and discerning if it’s good or bad.
Vernon handles the production’s sound design as an awesome extension of the play’s humor. A hilarious cover of the Chili’s “Baby Back Ribs” ditty is used and inarguably is perfect. It also uses the “Highlander” soundtrack, so it gets bonus points in my book.
Once the story was told and the lights came on, I began to listen to the clamoring of my fellow audience members. Gauging their reactions to what they had just seen, in my eavesdropping, I found the general consensus seemed to be it was great but not what they were expecting. It’s not pure farce, or poking irrational fun at an irrational story. I wondered if they believed it to be a comedy of parables, in the same vain as “Davey and Goliath.” Truth is, it’s none of those things—just a simple, effective story of love between two people and timeless in nature.
“The Diary of Adam and Eve” is relatable: When you fall in love with another, doesn’t it just feel like you are the only two people on the Earth anyway? I can’t recommend this play more; it’s art.
And I can’t wait to see what Keepin’ On Productions does next.