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Theater Reviews : 'This Is Eden' Aims High but Gets Lost in Space

March 23, 1995|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — With all the sincerity in the world--and in space--H. Paul Moon, a student at Concordia University, has written a science-fiction play about how the Earth can recover from ecocide with the help of a young woman named Rachel and faith in God. Moon's title, "This Is Eden," refers to a space-station lab where Rachel has lived her 16 years. It also refers to where Rachel ends up, as a new Eve on a planet recovering from human-made devastation.

Alas, in a characteristic stylistic device, Moon has Rachel reveal at the end that she is reading Genesis. She is happy, which means she has not gotten to the grim sections of Genesis.

"This Is Eden," at Concordia's Studio Theatre, is the byproduct of a young writer's absorption of things Trekker and Christian, with some "Star Wars' " Force factored in. Moon may or may not have seen Andrei Tarkovsky's science-fiction masterpiece "Solaris," but that movie's close encounter with God also is felt here. But because Moon and director Chris Tornow are so devoted to their message of redemption, neither is aware when things become just downright silly.

And because Tornow's actors barely muster any credible emotional involvement with their characters, Moon's mechanical dialogue sounds especially rusty. (Jake, the earthbound boy with whom Rachel falls in love, proclaims: "I am a prodigal child . . . life is a bridge beyond reason and judgment.") Instead of the sense of discovery that clearly inspired Moon, this part of space is filled with a sense of puppet characters on strings.

Moon speculates that long after an AIDS cure has been discovered, a new virus is blanketing Earth in 2143. While a doctor (Steve Hinman) races against time to find a cure, the Eden ship orbits Earth. Because Rachel's mother and father (Makaela Ann Little and Derek M. Scally) want to keep their daughter clear of any disease, they have kept her on the spacecraft her entire life. Now, Rachel is feeling like a prisoner, and an improbably murky plot twist involving government nastiness allows her to go free to Earth.

Jake connects with Rachel via video screen (impressive work by video director Steve Lashower) and holograms (fake and visually confusing with Robert Wolter's lights and Tim Mueller's overwrought set). Finally, on an Earth somehow recovering from massive toxic pollution, Jake becomes the new Adam.

Caught somewhere between George Lucas' spirit and Ed Wood's kitsch, "This Is Eden" ultimately plays out like an expensive version of an outer-space play kids might do in the garage--a very big garage. Mary Therese Rennie creates a sympathetic Rachel but never sounds comfortable on this distancing set with the ultra-distancing dialogue. Scally and Little, virtually Rennie's age, unfortunately play their age. Dave Rueter awkwardly tries for some comic lightness as a crew member, and Hinman doesn't connect with us in his direct-address monologues.

*

As Jake, Brian Beaman has a grasp of a young guy sniffing out love and life and should take his performance further. The supporting baddies are really out of cheesy '50s sci-fi, which may or may not be deliberate.

In fact, the only things to be sure of here are that Moon is sure of his spiritual direction and that Concordia wants to do human-scale, hi-tech theater (accented by Richard R. Bruno's fine computer-screen graphics and Moon's Tomita-like music). But when the high-resolution screen imagery leaves a more lasting impression than the language, it's a sign of theater that needs to reorder its priorities.

* "This Is Eden," Concordia University Studio Theatre, 1530 Concordia Drive West, Irvine. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $5-$7. (714) 854-8002, Ext. 863. Running time: 2 hours.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Mary Therese Rennie: Rachel

Brian Beaman: Jake

Steve Hinman: Doc

Derek M. Scally: Father

Makaela Ann Little: Mother

Dave Reuter: Lee

Coleen Morris: Ms. Downs

Joe Jacobsmeyer: Chairman Randall

Kristine Willson: Command

John Brock: Accomplice

A Concordia University production of a play by H. Paul Moon, directed by Chris Tornow. Set: Tim Mueller. Lights: Robert Wolter. Sound, music: H. Paul Moon. Costumes: Keri Hoskins. Video: Steve Lashower. Computer graphics: Richard R. Bruno.

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