Theater Review

by Tom Fitt
Published February 21, 2008

The two-person play, “Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve,” was almost a slice of heaven Friday night. Almost.

The Wayfarers Chapel on the Palos Verdes Peninsula is as Eden-like a setting as is imaginable for theater-goers in the Los Angeles area. The natural beauty of the surroundings and the magnificent architecture of the chapel, designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, lives up to the designer’s name for the structure: “the tree chapel.” Built in 1951 as a church of the Swedenborgian faith, there is no possible way a visitor – be it for a religious service or an evening of entertainment – can exit the chapel in a negative mood. How can one be angry in the Garden of Eden?

The writers of the works performed at Wayfarers included Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, e.e. cummings, and, of course, Mark Twain – a most heavenly collection of scribes.

The two actors were Biblically epic. David Birney was Adam. (He also adapted the writings of the above mentioned authors for this production.) Madylon Brans played Eve. Both have extensive theater and film credits and were on top of their games in “Diaries.” Birney is probably most recognizable for his role in the early 1970s CBS series “Bridget Loves Bernie,” co-starring Meredith Baxter.

The play is a recitation of classic literary works. The first 15 minutes of the 95-minute presentation allowed the actors to banter through vignettes by Yeats, cummngs and others. These moments were among the brightest, best-performed, liveliest exchanges of dialogue of the evening.

Then came the meat of the script – the separate diaries of Adam and Eve, written 15 years apart by Twain.

Here is where the “almost heaven” comes into play.

Mark Twain meant his writings to be read. Throughout his works, the material is not laugh-out-loud funny. It evokes an occasional chuckle and, always, an appreciation of the cleverness of the author. When spoken from the stage, regardless the talent of the actors, Twain’s tales induce somnambulism. The writing is much better read than spoken.

And, though the setting is idyllic aesthetically, the chapel is lacking in certain fundamentals necessary in presenting a play. The actors had no microphones. They projected as best they could, but some audience members complained that the dialogue could not be heard.

The lighting in the chapel is designed to highlight the architecture. It succeeds. Unfortunately, the subtle light beams that enhance the huge glass panels and wooden superstructure of the place remained static for the performance. No theatrical lighting for the actors.

There have been acoustic musical performances at Wayfarers Chapel in the past. The church’s organizers hope to use the venue in the future for more concerts and small stage presentations. With a few technical additions to the space, the chapel will be a worthwhile entertainment site.
As mentioned above, it’s impossible to leave Wayfarers Chapel in a negative mood. ER