Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) at Tropicana Theatre

Lost Dog’s ‘Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me)’ is a one-man show based on Milton’s Paradise Lost; for those not in the know, that’s everything from Lucifer’s rebellion to Adam and Eve getting removed of Eden. (So, you know, light viewing for a Tuesday night in Weston.)

Ben Duke (creator, writer, and performer) starts us with low expectations, hoping that we haven’t actually read Paradise Lost. He thanks us for taking a sunny evening out to see an interpretive dance piece based on Paradise Lost, and then laughs kindly as the audience shuffle awkwardly in their seats. As God, he is just as apologetic- playing him as a first-time parent, a frustrated Dad, a nervous dater. As he compares the Fall of man to his own parenting, the theme of creation goes even more meta, with glimpses into how the show came about- and then suddenly he is God as a choreographer, an artist, playing the thrill and dread that comes with a blank canvas.

With a deceptively haphazard look, the show actually feels incredibly well-crafted, and the detail of the staging and the performance is beyond what I’ve seen in shows of similar size. As with all of Lost Dog’s works, the piece combines spoken word with dance to create something powerful, something beyond what the two can do separately. Ben Duke’s movement feels completely deliberate; even in moments that are chaotic, these frenetic and jerky motions that really capture that feeling of creation: that mania, the unsure moments. The choreography only got more beautiful as the show went on; in particular, a piece to Janis Joplin’s ‘Summertime’ left me completely captivated.

The show is funny and touching, haunting in places, and self-deprecating all the way. A retelling of Paradise Lost through contemporary dance feels like a hard sell, but it’s a truly brilliant piece. Pairing the frustration of creation against modern parenthood, the universes we create for ourselves, Ben Duke creates this heightened work that feels as grandiose as it does personal.

Review by Josie Sutton

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