Adam and Eve in Paradise (The Fall), Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1533
I went to see Paradise Lost last night. Just saying that sounds ridiculous, since Milton's poem has defied theatrical representation for nearly 400 years, and understandably so since the epic is the mother of dense poetical verse, a supertanker full of pipe organs. Impossible to stage, especially on a budget of $600, the grand total of theatre 'd art's production resources. But I am happy to say I was mostly surprised and delighted, was never bored, and often deeply engaged. Every one of the many young actors gave me pleasure, Jon Margheim had some inventive directorial touches (creating a terrific tree of knowledge), and Jeff Keele did a splendid job of wrestling Milton's leviathan into a two hour eventful evening of theatre. Was it a revelation? Not quite. Even on $600 you would hope to get past plastic flowers for paradise, bad hair and magic markers for hell, new age music in heaven. I don't think the worlds of the epic-- heaven, hell and Eden were deeply imagined or reinvented into theatrical life, though that's a daunting assigment for anyone. But hell, this was still heaven and earth in Milton's grand style.
The bravest and most abiding image of the production, besides undertaking it all all, were Adam and Eve. They were entirely naked. And not naked far off upstage, or whirling in strobe lights, appearing and then vanishing in a flash. When they appeared they waked naked on stage, took their place in the warm garden, sitting happily together, as Milton says, "under a tuft of shade." They stayed naked for nearly the entire production, and walked around comfortably through the audience in this promenade staging. It was remarkable, and partly because it became unremarkable very soon. I remember how this worked from my time at a hippy spa in California, in those edenic days of the late 1960's. You arrived and realized everyone was naked. It was a fabulous shock---and then, in about 5 minutes, the shock wore off, and you might have paid less attention to the nude bathers than you would to a small beach of bikinis, and you were naked too. There was simply nothing more to see (desire, remember, is wanting what you have not got, and when everyone is naked you get it all).
This is exactly what happened in Paradise Lost. After the first greedy shock of naked Eden, we accepted Adam and Eve as characters; their nakedness was their costume. In very little time the staring stopped and we paid attention to what they were saying, and within 15 minutes a naked Eve standing two feet away from me seemed just as normal as the customer behind me at Seven Eleven (well, actually maybe much more normal).
Nakedness is of course required in Eden--anything less (or more) would be completely wrong. Milton writes about it, and the scene of our first parents is iconic. Nakedness in Eden spells innocence, purity. as well as the complete absence of fear and danger---now that's Paradise. All praise to theatre 'd art and to the actors playing Adam and Eve for getting this exactly right. Both were lovely, and yet neither were supermodels--it is the tenderness of their flesh,and the softness of their bodies, that impressed, not their allure. And there is everything to be said for nakedness, for seeing us as we are, made, as Milton says, in God's own image--this is a genuinely lovely thing to contemplate, especially, perhaps, in Adam and Eve, both young and possessing bodies nature is still interested in.
When Satan arrives in Eden, with his smoldering mind bent on total destruction, "the Fiend," as Milton says, "saw undelighted all delight." But something different happens when Satan sees the naked Eve, "Her heaven'ly form/ Angelic, but more soft, and Feminine." Eve's innocence and grace "overaw'd His Malice" and he stands suspended:
" . . . the Evil one abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remain'd
Stupidly good, of enmity disarm'd,
Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge"
Satan's response to naked human beauty is momentary, since he is always burning with hot Hell. For the rest of us, the absorbtion lingers. Nothing is more lumenscent than lovely, simply human flesh. My thanks to Milton and to theatre 'd art for giving us an alternative to the nakedness of advertisements and porn, and returning us to paradise, where, for a moment, we could all be stupidly good and natural together.