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A CurtainUp Review
Garden of Earthly DelightsBy Simon Saltzman
Additional Thoughts by Elyse Sommer
Clarke has given equal time and latitude to Bosch's biblical and the heretical visions, but unlike the left to right path the eye takes as it looks at the three-part painting/collage, the action in the one-hour show proceeds smoothly and chronologically. Dressed only in sheer body stockings (courtesy of designer Jane Greenwood), the performers are as close to being naked as possible as they enter a bleak colorless world. Lithe and limber, some appear as four-legged creatures slowly and gracefully roaming the earth, their torsos bent forward so that their hands reach to the floor with a sweeping motion.
The arrival of knowledge and conflict begins with Adam and Eve and when she takes a bite out of that delicious and darned apple. It follows that the scent of a woman would prompt erections (somewhat humorously appended) on the men. Body language is paramount as the performers move through the various and progressive states of self-discovery, including bodily functions and a variety of sexual encounters. The rise in hatred and cruelty is evidenced by the horrific acts perpetrated during the Spanish Inquisition. Scenes of torture and the ability of men to be inhuman to each other in the guise of religious dogma give the show a chilling vision of misplaced morality.
Not quite as lurid as the images from Dante's Inferno, the episode in which we see humans doomed to suffer the torments of hell as they await salvation and resurrection are chilling. Watching performers spinning suspended by pulleys and being hurtled toward the rafters (courtesy of the Flying By Foy Company) is thrilling.
While Clarke's ingeniously conceived and executed work may be nothing more than a fantastical mythology-based exercise, it brings an artistic light to the darkest and most depraved aspects of misplaced religiosity. Speaking of light, Christopher Akerlind's lighting effects are spectacularly eerie, as is Peaslee's haunting music. Three musicians dressed as monks play the score and occasionally roam about the stage.
There is the temptation to consider Clarke's interpretation of Bosch's masterpiece as a work striving for profundity. Actually, she implants a wry and humorous layer on to Bosch's panorama of sin, sensuality and redemption that fills us with, as the title suggests, delight. As originally conceived and performed for our voyeuristic pleasures, Garden of Earthly Delights was honored in its original run with a Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, an Obie Award for Richard Peaslee's original score, and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for choreography.
This production appeared earlier this season at the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank. If you missed it there, here is your chance to catch it here.