PARADISE LOST by Erin Shields to be Performed at Actors' Theatre Grand Rapids

Presented by Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids, this witty, feminist take on Milton's epic poem is led by Michigan actress Jean Reed Bahle as Satan.

By: Apr. 17, 2024
PARADISE LOST by Erin Shields to be Performed at Actors' Theatre Grand Rapids
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After its highly praised, extended-run world premiere at Stratford Festival, Paradise Lost by Erin Shields will have its US premiere in Grand Rapids, MI this May. Actors' Theatre Grand Rapids, known for producing high-quality, thought-provoking theatrical works, is setting the stage for this witty, feminist take on Milton's epic poem.

Leading the story along is its narrator herself, Satan. Jean Reed Bahle, a Michigan actress, director, playwright, and educator who has been with the organization since its inception, is bringing this character to life. "You get her point of view on the War in Heaven and the Fall...and you come to understand how wounded she feels. To her it's as much about seeking justice, as it is revenge", Bahle explains of her character. "Ever since I saw it in Stratford, I've been enthralled with the play's wit, its challenge to the religious myths we've inherited, and its fearless question about the nature of good and evil."

And that classic debate over good and evil has never been so satisfying. The play's director Jason J. Flannery explained his love for the show comes from that marriage of epic and contemporary. "I have always had a deep appreciation for the epic scope, visual aesthetic, room for creative theatricality, and general ambition of Classic theatre, while also finding myself increasingly impatient with text and ideas that are either no longer applicable to our world or that could be expressed in a more impactful, honest, nuanced, or relatable dialogue. Shields' Paradise Lost generously offers both: room to play in the swordfights and talking snakes, the angels and demons...while also rooted in the world and language of today." Bahle adds, "[It's a] fantastic mix of the poetic and the prosaic, the absurd humor and the deep philosophy. And it's so theatrical! It's a paradise for the imagination."

In an interview with Playwrights Canada, Shields explains, "Milton's portrayal of the gender dynamics between Adam and Eve reflects his time. My Adam and Eve reflect mine in that I have endeavored to create an equitable power dynamic between them, an equality which is ultimately undone by the Fall and Eve's punishment. Also, my rebellious Satan is female, and she speaks to directly to our contemporary secular audience, telling this iconic story from her perspective, contextualizing it for our time."

Integral to this powerful contemporizing is a backbone of honesty. Bahle said that throughout rehearsal one challenge was to not get lost cliches of 'good' or 'evil'. "'Angry', 'dark', hateful', 'mean' - those adjectives never serve an actor very well, anyway." Flannery similarly comments that "Shields has already done the heavy lifting of writing characters that are deep and complex. I encouraged the cast to think of their characters as they would in any other play: to find the flaws in those perceived good, the goodness in those perceived negatively. I give some simple reminders to build from their perspectives as human beings... that 'honest' is the most interesting thing you can be onstage."

When asked what particularly stands out in the text, Bahle offered that "There's a speech where Satan asks if 'all the ostentatious beauty doesn't make you sick'. She refers to this expansive, exquisite ecosystem we have here on earth. 'Makes you want to destroy it, doesn't it'. She's not blaming us humans but observing that it's part of the human condition. Every creative innovation, every advancement, every 'progress' has its dark and negative consequences. Intended or not."

Although the epic nature of the original poem in addition to weightier conversations around good, evil, and the fate of humanity might all feel daunting, Shields has woven a beautiful thread of humor throughout the entire work. "She has injected enough humor to allow the show to dig deep into darkness, only to slingshot folks back up with a quippy exchange", says Flannery. "[It is] unnerving, weighty, apocalyptic...but simultaneously, one character is holding a rubber chicken."

Shields has hit the mark on crafting an astounding piece of theatre that explores the riches of humanity. It is mindful of its religious mythological roots while offering healthy doses of satire, cynicism, and a universal focus on the human experience. "I hope it sparks a lot of conversation," says Bahle. "What does it mean to be fully human, how are we to live with each other...Come and be surprised and moved."

Paradise Lost by Erin Shields will be performed May 2-11, 2024 by Actors' Theatre Grand Rapids at Spectrum Theater on the campus of Grand Rapids Community College. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and available online at or at the door.


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