The Diary of Adam and Eve
In the beginning, light: evening stars and morning sun. Adam and Eve, in casual dress, take turns wandering barefoot in the Garden of Eden, discovering each other along with everything else. To Eve, the quintessential female model, it's all wondrous, and she immediately names and tends all she comes in contact with, including a very resistant Adam. He, the territorial and reserved male, is uncomfortable with change and exploration, and resists the intrusion of the new presence. But that is just the beginning.
The words are clever and the premise smart, but even the words of iconic American humorist and writer Mark Twain - those alone would not be enough to keep an audience engrossed in the actions of two actors on a minimally set stage reciting alternating monologues for 90 minutes.
In the case of Joann Green Breuer's production of "The Diary of Adam And Eve," currently at the Vineyard Playhouse, the performance and staging are brought to such a high polish they bring every bit of wit and nuance to a high shine. The play sparkles with immediacy, rhythm, mood, and earnest enthusiasm.
Ms. Breuer has restructured two separate works of the remarkable Twain (Samuel Clemens, 1835-1910): "Excerpts from the Diary of Adam,'' written around 1893, and ''Eve's Diary,'' written over a decade later. "The Diary of Adam and Eve," has been combined by various hands in various versions, and performed successfully on stage and film since the late 1990s.
Ms. Breuer explains that she first envisioned her treatment whole and complete, like imagining a work of art. "It's Mark Twain's words that inspired me," she says. "It all came into my head," and then, the quiet-spoken director adds, "But when these actors came into it, they made it theirs."
She describes seeing Margaret Daly (Eve) and Peter Howard (Adam) bring the play to light. "I wept," she admits. "They took it beyond my vision."
It's just before seating for Friday's show, and Ms. Breuer sits on a cushioned bench against the long wall in the Playhouse lobby. It's a busy Vineyard weekend; the Fair and fireworks compete for audiences, and Ms. Breuer watches people enter with anxious note. Despite her impressive credentials (theater instructor at Harvard, author of "The Small Theatre Handbook" [late 1980s], and recipient of the Elliot Norton Award for Continuous Excellence in Directing), she seems a shy and modest presence. "It was very daring of MJ (Playhouse artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo) to have taken a chance on an original play," she says.
Not much of a risk with actors who become the architects of the intention of every sentence they utter, a director with the finesse of Ms. Breuer, and, of course, the words of Mark Twain.
"I love to talk," confesses Eve, "If I had someone to talk to, I could be twice as interesting."
As Eve, Ms. Daly, whose vitae includes television, off-Broadway and regional theater, is full of expressed innocence, feelings, and insights. The actress displays conviction as her character identifies her passion for the beautiful as being at the center of her nature. She and Adam (she wonders at first if he might be some sort of reptile) are, she thinks, Experiments: "I am the main part, but I think the rest of it has its share in the matter." Eve, who has renamed the garden The Niagara Falls Park, because that's what it looks like, continues, "Some instinct tells me that eternal vigilance is the price of supremacy."
Ms. Daly, winsome without becoming cloying, extracts our belief in awe and wonder as she shares her discoveries with us: "The moon got loose last night, and slid down and fell out of the scheme; a very great loss," and "I made an axiom, all out of my own head - my very first one: The scratched Experiment shuns the thorn."
As Adam, Mr. Howard is beleaguered by Eve's enthusiasms, weary with her curiosities. She swoons, and he, with humor, complains - but we know he hasn't a chance even before the snake whispers its message.
Mr. Howard is a Los Angeles and regional theater veteran, founder of Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles, and a onetime student of Ms. Breuer's. He never takes Adam further than our sympathies will stretch. Funny and touching, he is bits and pieces of all of us, and we have confidence that Adam, despite himself, will endure. "I" becomes "we," "it" becomes "she," even as he laments, "It used to be so pleasant and quiet here."
And in the end, it is a love story with nature, people, and life, filled with philosophy and optimism and eminently worth seeing.
"The Diary of Adam and Eve," Vineyard Playhouse, through Sept. 6. Tuesdays (discount tickets) & Wednesdays, 7 pm; Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays, 8 pm. Matinee on August 30 at 3 pm. Tickets $37.50, $32.50 seniors, $25 children under age 18. 508-696-6300