Timeline’s Paradise Lost

From Sept ’07 Spotlight: Clifford Odets, the most prominent theatrical voice of America’s Great Depression, fell out of favor sometime during the Cold War when his left-wing sympathies resulted in a summons from HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee). He avoided the blacklist by “naming names,” then moved from New York to Hollywood where he created screen characters such as “Georgie Elgin” in The Country Girl (for which Grace Kelly received an Oscar in 1955), and “J.J. Hunsecker” and “Sidney Falco” (played so memorably by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in Alexander Mackendrick’s 1957 adaptation of The Sweet Smell of Success). But who remembers this child of Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants now? Chicago’s Timeline Theatre!

Fresh off their highly-acclaimed 05-06 season, Timeline is opening 07-08 with a revival of Paradise Lost, Odet’s most difficult and controversial play. First performed by the famous Group Theatre in 1935, Paradise Lost was directed by Harold Clurman with some of the most famous Jewish actors of the era in key roles (including Stella Adler, Morris Carnovsky, and Sanford Meisner). Asked to describe the play, Clurman said: “Wherever I went it seemed to me I observed an inner chaos… Paradise Lost seemed to me to reflect this almost dreamlike unclarity and, in a measure, to explain it.”

“Odets is always about calling things out and putting everyone on the carpet and making them accountable,” Timeline director Louis Contey told me by e-mail. “Certainly this play does that.” And staging continues to be a critical element of Paradise Lost. “He’s giving us a little parable,” said Contey, “and we’re playing that up through the design by creating kind of a wasteland for this well-to-do family to inhabit.” As Clurman notes: “Nothing was left for these people except their basic sweetness.”

Paradise Lost runs through October 21. For tickets, visit: www.timelinetheatre.com or call 773-281-TIME (8463).

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