Review: 'Children of Eden' by Square Foot Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

OnStage Connecticut Critic

"I am not a stranger to the rain, Let it rain..."

Wallingford, CT - It was the first time that I had the experience of driving to a new venue and realizing that I had already reviewed one of their productions in a different space. Square Foot Theatre has moved around a lot. They have performed past shows in middle school auditoriums, pool clubs, retail storefronts and synagogue social halls (which is where I enjoyed their production of ‘Rent.’) Over 950 different actors have graced their various stages and over 25,000 people have sat in their audiences. The production of ‘Children of Eden’ that opened on August 11 on the stage of the space in Wallingford that will be theirs for at least the next five years marks their 50th production.

One thing about Square Foot has remained permanent -”our endless love and devotion to our everyone that walks through our doors.” The company is made up of all ages and walks of life, craft, and a passion and drive to create an atmosphere that nurtures as well as inspires so that all of these “square feet” make them who they are: “a true community theatre in every sense of the word - community.” The focus is on nurturing the talents of local children and adults in a cooperative setting, much like a teaching hospital operates. The headlining sponsor is The Jamie A. Hulley Arts Foundation. 

The new venue is located in two unit of an easy to find strip mall on Yale Avenue in Wallingford. There is a small lobby that was used as a backstage area and the stage is a semi-circular area of the floor surrounded by cabaret seating. The ‘Children of Eden’ set contained elevated platforms on both sides and the actors moved freely throughout the audience, often sitting on the floor between the tables to be part of the action on the stage. It was exciting to hear the various vocal parts of the musical numbers in a kind of personal surround sound. This staging by director Patrick Laffin effectively brought the audience into the biblical stories being told, whether the young actors playing the animals being named by Adam and Eve or loaded onto Noah’s Ark passed by the tables or a dancer performed a foot away. This space gives new meaning to an intimate venue and forces the actors to work even harder to stay in character.

The talented performers in the large ensemble made it all look easy. Featured storyteller soloists included the vocal talents of Emma Lampropoulos, Francis Michael, Tony Palluzzi, Gabriella Riccio, Amanda Starr and Nicole Bregman, a local singing actress I have watched grow in grace since first grade and who will enter high school at Waterbury Arts Magnet School in a few weeks.

Young Abel was played by Ethan Bazinet and Young Cain was played by Joey Rebeschi; both young actors did well. Seventeen year old Jane Kos brought beautiful sincerity to the role of the servant Yohan. Caroline Thompson and Maria Teresa Lonetti played wives Aysha and Aphra in the second act with grace.

All the rest of the actors played their dual roles with ease. Francis Michael played Seth/Shem. Kyle Riedinger took on the roles of Adam’s son Abel and Noah’s son Ham. Moses Beckett (Roger in ‘Rent’) sang perfectly in the featured roles of his brothers, Cain and Japeth. 

Tina Valente (Mimi in ‘Rent’) displayed her wonderful voice once again as the first woman Eve and Mama, the wife of Noah. Tenor Christopher Sumrell sang his way through the roles of both Adam and the builder of the ark Noah. Alex Forte brought the sound of a cantor to the role of Father God and plenty of paternal love for his children as well.
The look of the costumes worn for both acts was noticeably dirty and distressed/frayed and more modern than biblical. It gave the show a unique look that went well with the set and it was nicely lit by Mr. Laffin and choreographer Jennifer Kaye. 

The choreographer designed motions that seemed like sign language using the entire body. It worked with the musical numbers and was beautiful to behold. The graffiti on the set designed by Mr. Laffin gave it an urban feel and the props were made of reused materials. The four-piece orchestra under the direction of Music Director Alan Dougherty sat in far corner and sounded great while not overpowering the space. Many of the actors wore microphones on their heads and I heard no sound issues. The one sound that was constant at this performance was the raging thunderstorm outside during the second act that did not cease after the forty days and forty nights had ended.  

‘Children of Eden’ features a book by John Caird with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and was based on a concept by Charles Lisanby with orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin and Martin Erskine. The Square Foot Theatre Company production did well with including the youngest members of the cast and allowing them to learn from the more seasoned performers and the production team. Auditions for the 2016-2017 season begin on Aug. 28 with auditions for all ages for ‘Ragtime.’ 

The Jamie A. Hulley Arts Foundation will present their 14th annual ‘Evening for the Arts’ on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at The Quick Center, Fairfield University, The auction preview and reception begins at 6pm, followed by the performance of ‘Four by Four,’ a tribute from the creators of ‘Oh What a Night’ to the music of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Bee-Gees and Motown, at 7pm. Tickets are available at the Quick Center Box Office. 

Photo courtesy of Square Foot Theatre