By Ruth Nelson, Master of Dramaturgy
God the Father. The omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient divine creator of all things. It’s a fairly daunting concept to grasp, even theoretically; how, then, does one go about turning that concept into a character to be presented believably onstage? This is the task set to me by Jessica Osnoe, the adapter and director of Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s Paradise Lost, and I am grateful for the challenge—not because I have some sort of fetish for difficult challenges, but because this is the Story of stories, and it is an honor and privilege to share in this inimitable telling of it.
When most people think of “God,” I imagine some form of these two thoughts spring instantly to mind: “Man, he’s mighty” and “Man, he’s mad.” Wrath and power; terrible and everlasting judgment; impossible standards of perfection; these are the lenses through which most of us see the divine. It would be easy to play to these stereotypes, particularly in the context of Paradise Lost. The story begins with the fall of Satan and his angels from heaven and ends with Adam and Eve being driven out of Eden because of their sin; could God have any more reason to be profoundly peeved? However, I knew immediately that this was not the route I wanted to take. It is not the best route, nor is it true.
We have a saying at Sweet Tea Shakespeare: “Love is the strongest choice.” Looking at this story through the lens of love, we see that Adam and Eve—though they lose Eden—are not the ones who lose the most. Satan loses heaven, but he is not the one with most cause to mourn. This is a story about a father’s –THE Father’s—loss. He grieves over Satan and the demons as they fall willfully from heaven. He mourns over Adam and Eve as they freely choose the offered temptation over his present and promised provision. He laments over his beautiful creation, which falls under a curse because of mankind’s transgression. Every time we see God the Father, he is in mourning. There is anger, yes—but it is the anger that flows from a broken heart. There is power, certainly—but it is evidenced primarily in the increased capacity of such a heart to love, create, suffer, forgive, and continue loving.
This love and the pain that necessarily accompanies it have guided me as an actor through this unique process. And it is the victory of this love that allows the show to close with a spark of hope, lighting the way from paradise into the waiting everyday world.
I hope to see you there.