Yet from those flames, no light, but rather darkness visible.
This short excerpt from the first book of John Milton's Paradise Lost, describing Satan's hellish countenance, is also an apt descriptor for the one-man adaptation of the epic poem by Lecoq-trained Irish performer Christopher Samuel Carroll.
Held in the conveniently subterranean Henrietta's venue at The Henry Austin, Carroll provides the audience with a visceral and sinister rendition of Milton's lyrical account of Satan's vengeance upon his creator through the temptation of Man. Made up to a suitably spectral white, through what I imagine are liberal applications of body paint, and sporting nothing but a fundoshi (traditional Japanese cloth underwear), Carroll lends a fresh take on one of literature's earliest anti-heroes that is heavily influenced by Butōh, a form of Japanese dance theatre that often deals in fantastic settings and grotesque themes, which makes for a fitting approach to Milton's text.
The other characteristic of the Butōh style relevant here are the deliberate movements of the performers, and Carroll's execution takes that to its extreme, undulating Serpent-like or affecting the feminine mannerisms of Eve. Clever and restrained use of lighting accentuates these changes well, particularly in the back-lit silhouette of God. Indeed the show is about as bare bones as it gets, with no score to distract from Carroll's bestial performance as the Prince of Lies. Costumes are clearly sparse as well.
Something of a labour of love, Carroll recounted to me the seven-year process of addition and subtraction that has led to the show's current form, eschewing anything that detracts from Milton's verse. He is still deliberating on adding music to the show — an apparently crucial decision for a performance that relies so much on the careful balance of its few elements.
Distilling the epic poem into an hour-long show must have been a daunting task that Carroll has nevertheless done so admirably. Audiences with the vocabulary to keep up with Milton's phrases will have no trouble following the arc from Hell, to Eden, to exile. It certainly doesn't hurt that the biblical tale is likely the most familiar ever told.
Paradise Lost is a simple, yet deeply nuanced performance of the famous theological work, and a testament to Carroll's ability as a performer. You will be entranced by his retelling of the fallen angel hell-bent upon revenge against his Creator and his works.
And if you're anything like me, you'll be cheering for Satan just a little.