Twain’s Adam and Eve in Santa Cruz

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As artistic marriages go, it’s hard to beat this one: The most beloved writer in American history, and Western civilization’s most durable and resonant mythic story.
Combine those with the production values of the area’s most accomplished theater company, and you have an intriguing springtime treat: Mark Twain meets Adam and Eve, interpreted by Shakespeare Santa Cruz.
SSC’s artistic director Marco Barricelli joins forces with Patty Gallagher of UC Santa Cruz’s theater arts department for a dramatic reading of Mark Twain’s “The Diaries of Adam and Eve.” There will be no apple-bearing snakes, fig leaves or rib extraction. It is, in fact, a love story – the world’s oldest love story.
“On one hand, it’s this hidden gem that not too many people know about,” said Gallagher, the production’s “Eve.” “On the other hand, it’s very much like Twain as we’ve come to know him, particularly in his ability to capture the rhythms of his character’s speech.”
The performance, to take place on Sunday at the Mainstage theater on the UCSC campus, will not be a fully staged production, but rather a reading, putting emphasis on the storytelling aspects of the text. The play, adapted by accomplished stage, film and television actor David Birney, is a combination of two texts written by Twain. The first, “Excerpts from Adam’s Diary” was published in 1893; “Eve’s Diary” followed in 1905. Both works, as their titles suggest, are first-person accounts of the long relationship between the First Man and the First Woman.
“It’s really about the relationship,” said Birney. “It’s about always getting it wrong until you finally get it right.”
Birney himself toured with the play for several years with actress Madylon Brans as his Eve. He said, that though the play is ultimately a wistful and tender romance between two iconic figures, Twain’s sardonic, eagle-eyed humor saved the day from those resistant to the romantic angle.
“We took it into Appalachia, into Kentucky and West Virginia,” said Birney, “and you could just see the guys coming in, being dragged by their wives, slumped shoulders and all, thinking ‘What am I doing here?’ But once we got on stage, after a while, I would always hear the men laughing. That’s when I knew we had ’em.”
“There’s a real sweetness and a richness to it, as the relationship deepens and mellows,” said Gallagher.
Much of the appeal of the play is in Adam and Eve’s unique position as the first humans. They are experiencing everything, including each other for the first time, and without parents, or any kind of forebears to help them. Adam’s first impression of Eve is one of annoyance. “This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way,” says Twain’s Adam of Eve. When he hears that Eve is being seduced by the serpent, he expresses relief that he can get some rest from her. Later, when Eve gives birth to the couple’s first son, Cain, Adam thinks the baby is some kind of fish, or maybe a kangaroo.
“Eve’s Diary” was written after the death of Twain’s own wife, Olivia, in 1904. Birney said that the “Eve” material “had quite a different tenor and tone about it.”
Patty Gallagher also noticed a difference in the style and tone between Adam’s passages and Eve’s.
“Twain is so great at creating this distinct voices,” she said. “He created for Adam this great sense of no-nonsense pragmatism and Eve is more breathy cheerfulness.”
That gender difference brings up the question: Is Twain’s depiction of the genders –written a century ago after all, even before most American women had the right to vote – a bit dated?
“That was my first guess as I approached the material,” said Gallagher. “But the more I read it with joy and without judging, the more I was able to really enjoy it.”

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