ONE MARK OF GREAT POETRY IS ITS ability to transcend the time in which it was written. That goes double for English poet John Milton's Paradise Lost, as reen-visioned by the Dell'Arte Company of Blue Lake, Calif. In their ambitious new stage adaptation of the 17th-century God-versus-Satan epic, retitled Paradise Lost: The Clone of God, the physical-theatre specialists of Dell'Arte have pulled Milton's vastly influential, 10,549-line poem out of time, added contemporary science and technology to it and come up with a 21st-century dilemma: Why are we in the dirt staring up at heaven? Is it because of our genes or because of the Almighty?
In this production, the poet's words, not a little affected by his meetings with the Italian scientist and inventor Galileo Galilei, butt up against our own century's latest developments in scientific inquiry--particularly the Human Genome Project. The philosophical resonance of mapping genetic structures (particularly its implications about biological determinism) redirect Milton's cosmic tale, first published in 1667, into up-to-the-moment musings about human behavior--and, by chance or by design, plunge it headlong into reverberations of 9/11.
Development over the course of two years by the Dell' Arte Company in collaboration with Italian-born, Oakland-based scenic designer, director and writer Giulio Cesare Perrone, Paradise Lost: The Clone of God debuted in Blue Lake and toured last summer to Hungary and Croatia. The play takes the shape of there full-evening fragments, the first of which I saw in Dell'Arte's indoor Carlo Theatre in February 2001. It opens with Vivalidi's L'Estro Armonico, whose strains are shoved suddenly aside by the hip-hop rhythms of sound designer Timothy Gray. Rap lyrics--the first of a deluge of inventive anachronisms--toy with the Infamous One: "Satan, this is not your mother calling, come on."
This play's spoken lines are mostly drawn from …