October 13, 2021

“Eve’s Diary” Explores the Garden of Eden from a Unique Point of View; Theatre Intime Offers a Staged Reading of Twain’s Witty, Poignant Work

“EVE’S DIARY”: Theatre Intime has staged a reading of “Eve’s Diary,” presented October 10 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Directed by Anna Allport ’23, the show dramatizes Mark Twain’s retelling of the Creation story. Adam (Ally Wonski, standing left) and Eve (Oriana Nelson, standing right) meet. Seated, from left, are Mel Hornyak, Jill Leung, Elliot Lee, Madeline Buswell, and Sheherzad Jamal. (Photo by Elliot Lee)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Eve’s Diary is a witty but poignant re-imagining of events in the Garden of Eden. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) writes from the title character’s point of view, adding intermittent comments from Adam. First published in 1905, this anachronistic version of Genesis is strikingly relevant in its satire on conflicts in relationships between men and women, as well as its consideration of the search for one’s identity and purpose.

Twain’s story first appeared in the Christmas issue of Harper’s Bazaar, and subsequently in the anthology Their Husband’s Wives. In 1906 Harper and Brothers published it as a book. It is a successor to Extracts from Adam’s Diary (1893).

On October 10 Princeton University’s Theatre Intime presented a live, in-person staged reading of Eve’s Diary, at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Both the cast and the audience were masked.

Director Anna Allport reveals in a program note that she performed a monologue from the story in high school, and was enamored of the work’s “delightfulness and surprising complexity,” as well as Eve’s endless curiosity, headstrong spirit, and unshaken optimism.”

Because the presentation is a staged reading, the only production element is the lighting by Greyson Sapio. An apple, placed in the center at the edge of the stage, is the only prop. However, there is enough movement to provide visual interest. Allport keeps the pacing tight by avoiding pauses between monologues. Twain’s prose is divided among seven actors; four actors share Eve’s lines, and three read for Adam.

As Eve, Oriana Nelson opens the show. She stands up, and — with spring in her step — moves toward center stage. “Saturday — I am almost a day old,” she recites, gesturing expressively. Twain immediately imbues Eve with a mixture of self-confidence and philosophical introspection. “I feel like an experiment,” she muses early in the story, though she senses that her experiences will be “important to the historian some day.” Nelson accentuates Eve’s self-confidence.

The next segment, read by Sheherzad Jamal, reveals that Eve feels free to comment on the new creation of which she is a part. She is saddened by the moon’s disappearance. “It breaks my heart to think of it. There isn’t another thing among the ornaments and decorations that is comparable to it for beauty and finish. It should have been fastened better.” Jamal introduces Eve’s sentimental side, and her ability to appreciate beauty.

This is developed in lines read by Madeline Buswell. “I do love moons, they are so pretty and so romantic,” Eve gushes. I wish we had five or six; I would never go to bed; I should never get tired lying on the moss-bank and looking up at them.”

Soon Eve encounters Adam, “the other experiment.” At this point Allport introduces an effective bit of staging. The performers have been lined up in a row, seated on blocks, sorted by character. Those playing Adam are on the audience’s left, while the Eves are on the right. Until this point, the actors reading for Eve have never moved too far into the “Adam” side of the stage; there has been an invisible boundary at the center. Now, Nelson as Eve crosses that boundary, moving all the way to the other side of the stage.

Eve refers to Adam as a man, but she is not entirely certain what he is. (“I think it is a reptile, though it may be architecture.”) As Eve describes Adam, one of the actors portraying him — Ally Wonski — raises her arms, as though flexing her muscles, in a caricature of masculine swagger.

Initially Eve fears Adam, until she realizes (after he hastily climbs a tree for refuge) that he is equally afraid of her. As with the mountains, she is not completely impressed with Adam; she objects to his attempts to catch fish (which she thinks should be left alone), as well as his inability to appreciate the beauty of stars.

But in lines read by Elliot Lee, Eve — who says that she loves to talk — expresses excitement at discovering Adam can speak. Lee paces the stage and uses rapid, wide gestures, he accentuating Eve’s exuberance. Later, when his Eve discovers fire, he triumphantly spins. (Adam, in one of Wonski’s segments, inquires about the fire and picks up some coal, but puts it down out of disinterest.)

Another of Lee’s segments develops Eve’s relationship with Adam. “I study to be useful to him in every way I can, so as to increase his regard … I have taken all the work of naming things off his hands.”

However, her efforts are scarcely appreciated. Adam is disinterested in learning Eve’s name, or in telling him hers. At one point he even refuses to give her shelter from the rain. Buswell reads, “I could make him understand that a loving good heart is riches.”

Slowly rising from their block and sauntering around the stage, Mel Hornyak reads one of Adam’s monologues, which conveys condescending tolerance. “I ought to remember that she is very young … if she could quiet down and keep still a couple minutes at a time, it would be a reposeful spectacle.” But the monologue ends, “Once when she was standing marble-white and sun-drenched on a boulder … I recognized that she was beautiful.”

But a segment read by Jill Leung expresses Adam’s impatience that Eve has “no discrimination” regarding animals, asserting that in her disastrous attempt to ride a brontosaurus, she “would have hurt herself but for me.”

Twain does not dramatize the banishment from Eden, choosing instead to jump forward in time. Eventually it is 40 years after the main story. We see Eve mourn the loss of the garden, but content in her life with Adam (“The Garden is lost but I have found him.”). Reflecting on the complexities of love, Eve admits that she feels ignorant and inexperienced — an upsetting departure from her earlier self-assurance.

In both the program notes and the post-show talkback, Allport reveals that what lead her to propose to direct the show was the final line. At Eve’s grave Adam says, “Wheresoever she was, there was Eden.”

This quote is both moving and, given Adam’s attitude throughout much of the story, incongruous. As Allport notes in the talkback, the line comes as much from Twain himself as it does from the character of Adam. Twain’s wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens, had died in 1904 (a year before the publication of Eve’s Diary), and the quote is likely a tribute to her.

Audiences who associate Twain’s output with Tom Sawyer may have been surprised at how contemporary Eve’s Diary sounds. Of course, blogs and social media posts   form a modern equivalent to recording one’s thoughts and experiences in a diary.

It also has to do with the universality of the issues being examined. Eve’s Diary would work well as a solo show. But Allport’s decision to cast multiple actors, enabling us to hear Twain’s prose delivered by diverse voices, lets Theatre Intime’s production bring that universality to the forefront.

For information about Theatre Intime’s upcoming productions call (609) 258-5155 or visit theatreintime.org.