'Children of Eden' script struggles a bit to find its identity

Friday , June 27, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner staff

If you already know and love the Old Testament-inspired musical “Children of Eden,” you will be impressed by the current production at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre.

The show, which opened Monday night, featured strong singing voices, convincing character portrayals, playful costumes and an elegantly simple set with a few clever tricks built in.

The Stephen Schwartz musical tells a universal story about parents, their expectations for their offspring, their children’s longing for independence, and parents’ ultimate disappointment.

Think Adam and Eve versus their Biblical creator. Think Cain versus Adam and Eve. Think of Noah doubting God, and Noah’s children doubting their ark-building dad. Consider your own rebellions against parental authority.

Sounds like a perfect set up to reach a family oriented audience, a Utah specialty, right? What could possibly go wrong?

“I didn’t know the show before I came,” said audience member Niki Harding, 34, of Woods Cross. “I am trying to separate the religion from the family message. It’s an interesting struggle you have in every family. What they did with the religion doesn’t really bother me. It’s a play for entertainment.”

The problem for some audience members is the liberties the playwright took with Bible stories. At several points, the play seems to celebrate disobedience. And in the end, the character of “Father,” referred to by a third person character as “your God,” seems to have an important lesson to learn about acceptance.

Two of three audience members interviewed mentioned the unfortunate timing of a play with a disobedience theme opening a few hours after the announcement that Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly had been excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Harding preferred not to comment on the news of the day, and limited her comments to the musical.

“There has to be structure,” she said, of characters’ decisions in the show. “There are rules in everything you do.”

Jaren Peterson, 32, of Farmington, was impressed by actors’ performances.

“It was fabulous,” he said, at intermission. “It blew me away. I was amazed by how much feeling the actor playing Cain (Nate Waite, Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast) put into his part. I could understand his struggle. I came in without expectations, and thought it might be a little like ‘Saturday’s Warrior,’ but it was way better.”

So would Peterson recommend the show to his friends?

“I would recommend it to some, but definitely not to others,” he said. “I have some friends who couldn’t handle it.”

The cast was stellar. With a very few exceptions, voices rang strong and true in this mostly sung musical.

Cameron Kapetanov, who plays Father in the Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast, was a stand out, with a commanding singing and speaking voice, and just the right demeanor for every situation his character encountered.

All of the lead actors were strong and capable, and the cast’s storytellers and ensemble members used physical movements and dance to capture and reflect the emotion of the moment. They even used movement, and some head gear, to become convincing animals in the ark scene.

But audience laughter seemed uneasy whenever Father occasionally became the subject of a mild joke, or when other characters celebrated the freedom they had taken, but which Father had not granted. Some jokes came in awkward places, leaving the audience disinclined to laugh.

It’s a challenging show for those audience members who feel comfortable laughing at a joke when it’s about family, but not when the joke suggests even a slight imperfection in their God.

“Children of Eden” is a show rarely staged in Utah, a fact confirmed by director Alane Schultz, who welcomed the audience. Part of CenterPoint Legacy’s mission, she explained, was to make different theater experiences accessible to Utah audiences.

“It’s an interesting piece, an interesting little animal,” said Randall Eames, 28, of Salt Lake City. Eames graduated from Weber State University’s musical theater program, and recently directed “35MM” at Ogden’s Good Company Theatre.

“I like that it kind of goes against mainstream theology and lets us see a different side,” Eames said. “And there’s some incredible talent in the cast. But I don’t think it’s the perfect show. There are hiccups in the script.”

Eames said the show sometimes aimed to be a comical, and other times went for straight drama.

“The beginning was a satire, then it stopped being one, then there were a few scattered lines that seemed to be satire. It was not clear what we were supposed to take away.”

But one major gift of the theater is it spawns discussion, Eames said.

“Especially in Utah, this is a great time for this show. It leaves you with many questions you may or may not want to think about.

“But I always hope people will come out and support talented actors and local theater.”

“Children of Eden” is double cast, and plays at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, 525 N. 400 West, Centerville. The show continues through July 19. Ticket are $17-$20, and are available through www.centerpointtheatre.org.

Contact Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or nvan@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @SE_NancyVanV; on Facebook at facebook.com/SENancyVanV.

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