We had the chance to interview Marina Shay and Robbie Simpson, the leading actors in Paradise Lost, Tom Dulack’s modern retelling of John Milton’s classic story of humanity’s fall from grace. Here are the exerts from our sit-down.

Q. Marina, you have played some powerhouse in your career including Miss Julie, Marie Antoinette, Iphigenia, and Viola among others.  Where does Eve fit in for you?

Eve’s mind is a powerhouse. She’s an intellectual powerhouse. She’s born with the capacity to download massive amounts of information at supersonic speed. She learns so much in such a short amount of time with such ease. Some of the women you mentioned – and others I’ve played – are powerhouses because they have something to retaliate against. Many of them have been somehow mistreated by the world. Eve doesn’t have to retaliate against the world yet because the world hasn’t turned against her yet. So, she’s just fully present and fully herself all the time. There’s nothing to fear because fear doesn’t exist yet. There’s nothing holding her back – there’s no shame or doubt, there’s just unbridled joy and pursuit of the truth. 

And yet the irony is that she becomes the most mistreated woman in history. The western world spends the rest of time blaming her for everything – for literally the birth of evil. 

Q. Robbie, you came into the production late because of the indisposition of another actor.  Quite late really.  What was that like?  Describe the catching up process.

I did come to the production about a week after everyone else started. It was a challenge but Michael, our director, was able to catch me up pretty quick. My biggest task was to get fully memorized and that took about a week – when the writing is good, the text is easy to memorize and that was certainly the case with Tom’s Paradise Lost. As far as the relationship with Eve, Marina and I have already played lovers onstage and she is a dear friend, so in terms of chemistry – we were already ahead of schedule. We spent a lot of time outside of rehearsal talking about the characters, Adam and Eve’s relationship, and the relevance to a 2020 audience.

Q. Marina, how much is the finished product a result of your own suggestions and how much of it is a result of the way the playwright and director wanted to play her?

It was a combination. I certainly brought my voice to the piece but it’s Tom Dulack’s language and him and the Director, Michael Parva, had been working on it long before I joined the process. A big concern for all of us was cutting the script down without losing the juiciest bits of dialogue. And a big concern of mine was ensuring that we didn’t lose any important staples of Eve’s character. I fought for a lot of lines that fleshed her out more fully, and made her journey even clearer and more understandable. It was very important to me to maintain the integrity of her strongest qualities.  

Q. Were there disagreements?  How accommodating was Michael Parva and/or Tom Dulack in working with your suggestions?

I think we all approached the play from different angles because we come from very different backgrounds and generations. As the young woman in the role, I was very concerned about sending appropriate feminist messages to women today. Michael and Tom were also concerned with that – they wanted to make sure the play was relatable to women and young people, and all people. There were a lot of conversations revolving around those topics. At the end of the day the director and playwright have final say, but they were good about letting me run with what was meaningful to me. 

Q. Both, tell us something about how your history of working together and your personal friendship contributed to the success of the show.

Robbie – Marina and I played star – crossed lovers, Pip and Estella in Great Expectations at Syracuse Stage in 2016. We quickly became good friends and have been ever since. When I saw Marina was announced to star in this, before I was involved, I was so happy for her! I couldn’t wait to see it! I never thought I would be a part of it. I am over the moon.

It is a thrill to get to work with your friends and to be playing these iconic characters has been the cherry on top. Marina is an incredibly intelligent, hardworking, and playful actor. Being onstage with her makes me a better actor. Our history together helps the play and makes Adam and Eve’s relationship more personal. Last week Marina and I were walking out of the stage door and an audience member asked if we were really a couple. We did our job.

Marina – Yes! Robbie and I met doing a production of Great Expectations at Syracuse stage in 2016. It’s always been super effortless and easy to build with him. We already had a shorthand and similar visions and ideas. There was a lot of, “Yes, this is good, but is it right?  What else can it be? Is there a better way to do it? How much can it grow?” We were already physically comfortable and trusted each other.  All of that really contributed to the idea of Adam and Eve being cut from the same cloth, of being two halves of one whole. It’s not just a great love story, they’re also the only two of their kind in the whole world. They’re also each other’s family and best friends. With a relationship that close and intense having a shared history and trust is invaluable. 

Q. How much do your personal preferences about religion affect your performances?

Robbie – They don’t at all. At the end of the day we are interpreting a play and my process is the same whether we are working on Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare, or Paradise Lost.

Marina – Another excellent question. I’m personally not religious, but I’m very spiritual. To me many of the ideas we discuss in this play are just true of the universe and life. All these themes about the magic of being alive and loving and the forces that encompass us all – that’s universal. To me that’s just about celebrating life, and it isn’t exclusive to any religion or absence of religion, it’s just about being human. 

Q. Can you share your input on some of the challenges of bringing this ancient story up-to-date for modern and perhaps very secular audiences. 

Robbie – The debate between good and evil, right and wrong has been part of the cultural dialogue from the dawn of time and will always continue to be something humans wrestle with. I think the apple can serve as a metaphor in this piece, everyone can think of a ‘forbidden fruit’ in their own life. The quest for knowledge, power, and to better ourselves is something every human yearns for. But at what cost? It was very important to our director that the audience identify with the characters and see a part of themselves in each one of them.

Marina – It was a challenge because to be perfectly frank, the story is inherently misogynistic. Man is created first, woman is created second, and she is made from man, for man, literally from his flesh and for his flesh, and meant to be his subservient helper. And then she eats the apple and is blamed for the rest of eternity. But we never really hear her side of the story. We never really understand her thoughts or motivations. The objective of everyone on this project was to bring that to light. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Eve barely has any voice at all. She’s completely one-dimensional – an entirely beautiful, soft, meek, subservient creature. In Tom’s version, she’s a freaking genius. She questions, she pushes, she points out discrepancies. She’s insatiably hungry and curious. She’s incredibly truthful and honest. I see that as very feminist and relatable to secular audiences today. And I think the fact that we’ve begun to illuminate her perspective is relatable to audiences today. I don’t think we’re done yet, but I think we’ve started. At least that’s what I’ve strived for. And I’m not done yet. 

Q. Do you think young American audiences can identify with Adam and Eve and even sympathize with them?

Marina- I think and hope young people will find that, although Adam and Eve happen to be the first relationship, they’re really just another relationship. They get miffed at each other, they have petty quibbles, they disagree on how to spend their morning, and then they come back together and love each other. There are several moments where they are the model of a very functional, modern, evolved relationship. Where they can disagree, but also listen to and understand each other. And, ultimately, they always choose love above the argument and find their way back together. I think that’s pretty modern and evolved.

They’re also one of the greatest love stories all time. If kids today can get Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde, which I desperately hope they can, they should be able to get Adam and Eve. 

Robbie – It has been really fun to find all the similarities between what Tom wrote for Adam and Eve and a relationship in 2020. So much of what Adam and Eve are struggling with are things that still plague relationships today. Trust, communication, and jealousy are part of the human experience. Our audiences are seeing themselves in Adam and Eve and that was our goal. From the first moment they meet, to falling in love, to quarreling; it was important to our director, Michael, to make these interactions seem as universal and timeless as possible. I think this makes the audience lean in and listen – what can they learn from watching the first couple discover what it means to be a human?

Q. What about the ensemble. Could you describe the backstage esprit de corps if you will. 

Marina – It’s a great backstage vibe. There isn’t a bad egg in the cast. Everyone is truly lovely and we all get along wonderfully. There are lots of practical jokes and iconic Broadway stories. And somehow there’s always cake.

Robbie – We have the best cast! When I jumped into the production late, everyone was incredibly kind, offering to help me in any way they could. I share a dressing room with the other three men and we have a ball. Hearing all their stories from past shows is always fun.

Q. What’s it been like working with such veteran stars as Lou Liberatore, Mel Johnson Jr, Alison Fraser and David MacDonald?

Robbie – We are working with theater legends! I had just had the honor of working with Alison Fraser in Deathtrap at The Cape Playhouse this past summer. It’s how I got this job actually, when the other Adam left the production, Alison gave them my name.

I owe this job to Alison! She also happens to be one of the biggest Broadway stars, nominated for two Tony Awards for The Secret Garden and Romance Romance. She is incredibly humble and kind – and does an incredible job playing Sin in our production.

Lou Liberatore was nominated for a Tony Award for the original production of Burn This. I’ve been a fan of his for a while so getting to work with him is a dream. Mel Johnson Jr also has multiple Broadway shows to his name as well as starring opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Total Recall. He has us laughing in the dressing room right up until we all have to go onstage. David, as with the others, has multiple Broadway credits and is a Soap star. These three men have become mentors, I learn so much from them on and off stage.

Marina – They’re all titans of the theater it’s been so cool to work with them. I just feel really lucky to get to watch them and learn from them and hear their advice and opinions. It’s been really useful to have their example to follow. They’re not just great actors, they’re also all really, really lovely people. 

Q. What’s next up for each of you?

Marina – I’m going to a beach to write and adapt a new piece. Which I’m completely terrified of and very excited about. 

Robbie – I am going to Los Angeles to be the Associate Director on the play Afterglow. I was in the original cast when it opened off- Broadway in 2018. The production was a smash hit, we were only supposed to run for 2 months and we ran for almost a year and a half. The play then went to London, where it always was a hit. Now we are bringing the ‘international hit’ back to the states and opening it on the West Coast.

Then I will spend the summer in Dennis, Massachusetts where I am the Asst. Artistic Director of The Cape Playhouse.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us!

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