Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) is a solo performance by Lost Dog that sets out to present Milton’s Paradise Lost as a one-man epic. Ben Duke, the writer/performer, plays every part, and tells us early on that he hopes we haven’t actually read Paradise Lost, because he’s about to take some liberties. Duke’s gentle, open demeanor draws us in immediately. He chats with us and opens up about the nature of the performance while he takes us on a gentle journey through his domestic retelling of the Garden of Eden and how things didn’t go so well.
God and Lucifer become partners in common domestic challenges, and Duke finds comedy and apt comparisons throughout. Where the performance hits its core is when Duke’s own reflections on fatherhood create an elliptical effect, and we hear his fears about the possible loss, injury, or kidnapping of his small child ring out with echoes of the creation of humanity. It is these personal anecdotes that bring this Paradise to its grandest ambitions and most universal underpinnings. Our hearts break along with Duke’s at the notion of these haunting images.
Paradise also plays with the nature of its form. Duke speaks several times about creating the show as a dance, except that he wound up speaking far more than he intended, and not dancing nearly as much as he’d like.
In fact, one could describe his performance as a dance of words, because his rhythms and senses dance with us from beginning to end. Duke is an exceptional performer vocally and physically. He wraps the audience around his finger with bits of charm, then holds us there with the grandeur of his curiosity. Simple technical elements are used to astonishing effect in movement sequences that he sometimes describes as much he actually dances. Chickpeas take central stage for one of the loveliest of these sequences.
He may not manage to work through all Milton’s epic poem, or even much of it. But not to worry, Duke reads us the conclusion of the poem at the very beginning, so whatever digressions and adventures carry us away, we can rest easy because we all know how it ends.