Michael Socrates Moran Invokes Song & Story in Mythic Spectacle
by Jeanette Quick
“Exodus to Eden,” Michael Socrates Moran’s ambitious new play, breaks new ground in both its staging and its themes of otherness, environmental destruction, and homelessness.
The haunting voice of graceful Nkechi Live as an Exiled Angel fills the room, as she performs a mesmerizing dance in an exquisite rainbow winged costume. The floor is scattered with wood chips, jagged rocks, and lonely trees. We understand we are embarking on a long Grapes of Wrath journey. At times, it feels too long of a journey for one evening.
“Exodus to Eden” focuses on Miriam (powerful Arielle Powell), a pregnant young woman running from the law. We meet a perplexing 17 performers who take us across space and time, with dreams and reality in flux.
With more than 25 songs and harrowing tales of trauma, we follow Miriam and a community of visionaries assembled by her mother Mary (touching Awele Makeba). Mary grieves her past rejection of daughter Miriam. Indeed, this community is united by grief–for lost children, opportunities, and families. Under climate crisis, they embark on a pilgrimage from Oakland to Oklahoma to find a new home.
Miriam is haunted by a Satanic power-broker called The Man (laser-focused Adam KuveNiemann). The Man demands Miriam’s unborn child, a symbol of the callousness with which we regard the future. The Man idolizes a world with winners and losers, where oppression is expected, and the white man prevails.
But there is hope; we all can make choices. Jack (George Killingsworth), a Vietnam vet, intones: “I change my thoughts / I change my world,” which becomes the mantra for their modern-day biblical quest.
Among the travelers, pain and suffering prevail. The characters are allegorical, which makes them feel surreal, stand-ins for global crisis and cultural traumas:
An Israeli fighter is forced to make hard choices, while an Iranian midwife grapples with East vs. West morality.
An Irishman finds solace at the bottom of a bottle, while an Indigenous child is lost, with no land to call home.
An Indian trans person, Janardhana (J Jha), grieves the loss of home, while a Black family confronts a lifetime of racism.
As Miriam’s chosen tribe, they all take big risks. In and out of Miriam’s dreams, we empathize with her addiction, homelessness, and impending motherhood. Moran’s devoted crew want to save Miriam and find a safe home. They represent the world’s dispossessed and exploited. They pose hard questions: What is our relation to colonized lands?
The musical wanderers urge us to act on the environmental crisis, to stop handing over our future to the capitalist Man. All of us are potential immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Taking a page from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, the Exiled Angel and the Guardian Angel (Samuel Barksdale) become our moral barometers. They combine to seek redemption and exaltation.
“Exodus to Eden” shows us the possibilities of a new American Covenant, built on mutual respect and responsibility. Moran’s songs and story urge us to nurture the land and each other—a myth to live by.
“Exodus to Eden” –written and directed by Michael Socrates Moran, scenic design by Karla Hargrave, costumes designed by Evana Schibinger, lighting designed by Stephanie Anne Johnson, by Oakland Theater Project. Info: OaklandTheaterProject.org – to February 26, 2023.
Cast: The Heavens: Samuel Barksdale, Nkechi Live, Adam KuveNiemann, Carla Gallardo.
The Prophets: Arielle Powell, Dina Zarif, J Jha, Carla Gallardo.
The People: Awele Makeba, Dorian Lockett, William Oliver III, Kendra Owens, George Killingsworth, Linda Amayo-Hassan, Adrian Deane, Matt Standley, Rebecca Pingree, and Kevin Rebultan.
Banner photo: Carla Gallardo, Nkechi Live, and Arielle Powell. Photos: Ben Krantz Studio