From Orchids to Octopi: An Evolutionary Love Story by Melinda Lopez
Director: Whit Wales
Producer: Frank Bartucca
Sound Design: Robin Gabrielli
Lighting Design: Whit Wales
Photography: Whit Wales and Frank Bartucca
Stage Managers: Joanna Tivnan and Valery Evans
Mural and Mural Images: David Fichter
Emma Earls…..Annie Darwin, Girl
Melissa Earls…..Emma Darwin, Doctor, Tiktaalik, Cow 2
Sean Gardell…..Charles, Farish Jenkins, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Malthus, Cow 1, TB, Mary the Cook
Michael Legge…..Carnival Barker, Charles Darwin
Meet the Carnival Barker! The Two-Headed Cow! T Rex the Dinosaur! Add these together and mix with art and science, love and anxiety, the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, Charles Darwin and the fears of an expectant mother.
Melinda Lopez’s From Orchids to Octopi is a love story spanning two centuries, from Darwin to the modern age. There is love, sorrow, beauty and change: in a word, evolution. In the 21st century, Emma’s and Charles’ careers are achieving pinnacles of success and are also pulling them to live on different continents, just as Emma discovers that she is pregnant. Their concerns for their coming child, and their struggle to keep alive the love in their marriage, create a compelling story at once heart-rendering, comic, and tender.
In the 19th century, Charles Darwin prepares to leave his beloved Emma to set sail on the Beagle. Emma and Darwin struggle to reconcile his theories with their religion, and they both have to face the death from tuberculosis of their beloved child.
By Paul Kolas TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER
“From Orchids To Octopi: An Evolutionary Love Story”
WHITINSVILLE — Can a theater reviewer feel the thrill of discovery as keenly as Charles Darwin must have felt during his scientific exploits? Oh yes. Yes indeed. One of the mantras of Melinda Lopez’s extraordinary “From Orchids to Octopi: An Evolutionary Love Story” is “Mutation, Adaptation, Procreation, Domination.” If the human species is at the top of the food chain — although Sean Gardell’s sneering and ominous representation of TB would laughingly disagree — then 4th Wall Stage Company’s exhilarating production can lay claim to being at the top of the community theater chain.
You may ask yourself, how does one play tuberculosis? If you take the time to see what a marvelous experience director Whit Wales and his wonderful cast have in store for you at the Singh Performance Center in Whitinsville, you’ll find out. You’ll also be witness to a two-headed cow, a prehistoric fish called Tiktaalik, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Go ahead and scratch your head at all that, but “From Orchids to Octopi” is a surprisingly comprehensive, supremely nourishing piece of theater, the Discovery Channel brought to life onstage. What Lopez has done with great, facile skill is to create a love story — two love stories actually — from the seamless blending of science and art, fantasy and reality.
At the heart of Lopez’s work is the character of Emma (Eve Passeltiner), a young, pregnant, mildly dyslexic artist who has been commissioned to create a huge mural celebrating the 150th birthday of Charles Darwin (Michael Legge), and his monumental theory of evolution. Emma has concerns about her baby being healthy, which her doctor (an excellently officious Melissa Earls) addresses with slap-on-the-back clinical detachment in place of a comforting bedside manner. Emma’s anxiety over her baby’s welfare, and shaping her mural, manifests itself in hallucinatory dreams. A carnival barker (Legge) appears before her, asking her to “pick a card,” telling her she might get lucky and improve the DNA of the human species. Darwin guides her through her mind-bursting questions about the wonders and mysteries of evolution. Enter Tiktaalik (Earls), the link between fish and land animal, hilariously exclaiming, “I have a neck!” Darwin informs Emma a neck gave Tiktaalik an evolutionary advantage over its competitors. Gardell’s T-Rex, prancing around with a green, toothy, hood of a head, is told by Darwin that instead of getting longer arms, all he’s going to do is get bigger. Gardell just snorts “Bigger! I always get bigger!” Gardell and Earls’ uproarious impersonation of that two-headed cow, introduced by Legge’s carnival barker is another example of humorous mutation at work.
“Octopi” is both strange and strangely captivating. It’s instructive without being pedantic. It makes one take a closer look at who we are, what we are, inviting us to see how nature keeps moving forward. Legge exhibits brilliant elasticity as the probing, and fascinatingly informative, Darwin, and as the cunning carnival barker. His Darwin is a warm and thoughtful man who prefers the journey of discovery to the acquisition of knowledge. Among her many roles, Earls is eloquently moving as Darwin’s wife, Emma, a ballast of stately, loving support to her famous husband. Earls’ daughter, Emma Earls, plays the Darwins’ daughter, Annie, with enchanting perspicacity. And she garnered the biggest laugh on Saturday night, with a perfectly timed “why did you choose Dad?” to her stage AND real-life mother. It’s Passeltiner’s Emma who holds this singular mosaic together with remarkable heart and conviction. Her Emma is as restless as Legge’s Darwin to discover, to know, to feel, to love. It’s a performance filled with passion, wonder, curiosity, and fear. She and Gardell, who also plays her restaurateur husband Charles, bring a terrific, urgent tension to their relationship when Charles’ business starts to take off in unexpected ways, and Emma is given the opportunity to go to Paris. What holds them together, after Emma is scared half to death by, ironically enough, Gardell’s boogeyman stint as tuberculosis bacillus, is the new life they’re bringing into the world, as the image of Emma’s stunning mural, projected on a background wall, brings this memorable work to a close with the voice of a child saying, “Mama, it’s time.” It’s top of the chain, all right.