The early works of Clifford Odets are jammed with political speechifying—leftist, always leftist—and nowhere is that more evident than in this play, first produced in 1935 on Broadway by the famed Group Theater. The story of a middle-class family that loses it all during the Depression, the play was a flop when it debuted—audiences, one presumes, were not so keen on seeing their deteriorating lives mirrored on stage. In America, upward mobility is a moral imperative, but it is idealism that has brought this family to its knees. The Odetian response—which comes in thunderous exchanges of dialogue—declares that principle outweighs principal. When you’re about to be tossed out on the street, that’s easier said than done. I’m not sure how realistic “Paradise Lost” is, in terms of how people really deal with financial ruin—values can be impractical, and desperation can wilt them in a heartbeat—but what are plays for if not to explore a possibility?
And with Odets, you always get that language—the Runyon-esque street talk and its bruising bluntness: “Times is terrible.” A woman is complimented on her curvy physique: “You got a juicy body, like a marshmallow.” And when a man declares he knows and trusts his business partner intimately, he is informed: “In business, intimacy does not grow hair on a bald man’s head.” Something about the Timeline Theatre production doesn’t feel lived-in (Louis Contey is the director), but individually the performances are excellent. Janet Ulrich Brooks is especially good as Clara Gordon, the no-nonsense mother who signals her disinterest by saying, “Take a piece of fruit.” Anything to change the subject. Scott Aiello is all coiled rage and Marxist zeal as Pike, the furnace man not easily bullied by his circumstances. And as the hoodlum who has found a profitable (read: criminal) line of work, Jeremy Glickstein’s Kewpie is the most complex character of the lot—a young man who simultaneously idolizes and dishonors his closest friend. (Nina Metz)
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., 773-281-TIME (8463). This production is now closed.