The work of Lucifer and God has been Jeff Keele's passion project for almost five years.
He's finally finished his stage adaptation of the epic 1667 poem, "Paradise Lost," by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It's both his favorite piece of literature and his favorite writer, he says.
Keele's adaptation of "Paradise Lost" will open at Theatre 'd Art on Friday.
Literary critics have interpreted and evaluated Milton's poem for more than three centuries, and generally believe it to be the prime example of an epic, a lengthy narrative poem.
"The language is beautiful," says Keele, 31. "There's a lot of ethical scope to it. Milton is very ambitious. There's a sense of scale and scope you don't see with much literature."
Milton was inspired by the chapter of Genesis in the Bible - the creation of the world and the adventures of Adam and Eve. When Lucifer arrives in the Garden of Eden, and successfully tempts Eve into eating the fruit forbidden by God, all hell breaks loose.
"Milton takes a story everybody's familiar with," Keele says. "In Milton's time it was 10-20 lines in the Bible, and everybody thought he was nuts, like, what can you do with it that's interesting? But he did."
He had his work cut out for him - Milton's poem was published in 10 books, with more than 10,000 lines of verse. He took out the "thee's" and "thou's," and tried to make the grammar understandable, while still retaining the tone, Keele says.
"I took apart Milton's poetry, and the back and forth in these long monologues," he says. "I figured out ways to pull that apart to get more natural conversations. It's more accessible than the original."
This is the last production of Theatre 'd Art's sixth season, themed as "The Road to Upheaval."
"A lot of times with something like 'Paradise Lost,' a super well-known work that people are forced to read in school, you risk making a museum piece out of it," director Jonathan Margheim says. "It's like 'Hey, look at this thing that's really great. You should look because it's important.' That's fine, but not always what I want to do. I want to make it relevant in a new way for our own particular situations."
Many of Milton's critics have said the poem makes Lucifer into the unlikely hero.
"In some ways," Margheim says. "I view Lucifer as an anti-hero, and in many ways he is the protagonist of the poem. I view him like a Long John Silver, where he's a character who is immediately likeable, and you can empathize with him. But as you go through, you realize he's not the guy you think he is."
This, they believe, is how contemporary audiences can both relate to and learn from the characters.
"He rebels against what he views to be a tyrant," Margheim says of Lucifer. "Americans have a sense of revolutionary spirit, and the underdog is always appealing to our sensibilities. As the play progresses, you see indicators of his vanity and cruelty, and by the end of the show, he appears to be more like a 3-year-old, flailing at perceived injustices."
Whether audience members fall into the God or Lucifer camp, they'll do so on their feet. Viewers will stand for the show, and follow the cast as they walk between the two Theater 'd Art spaces - staged to look like heaven and hell and the Garden of Eden.
"I like that more immersive form of theater," Margheim says.
Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.
Who: Theatre ’d Art
Playwright: Jeff Keele, based on Milton's poem
Director: Jonathan Margheim
Cast: Dastan Harrison, Roy Ballard, Christian O’Shaughnessy, Michael Lee, Brittani Janish
Running time: 90 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday, July 5-7 and 11-13
Where: Theatre ’d Art, 128 N. Nevada Ave.
Tickets: $10, $5 students with ID;
Something else: Audiences will stand throughout the production, and walk with the cast as it moves between two rooms.