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When asked who is the greatest poet in the English language, most people will say “Shakespeare.” When asked who is the second greatest poet they might say “Keats.” But would anyone say “Milton?” These days it’s hard to find a college graduate who has read Animal Farm from cover to cover, much less Paradise Lost, written by a man who was once thought to be a greater poet than Shax himself.
But it was not always thus. John Dryden, himself a onetime contender for the title of greatest poet in the English language, friend and younger colleague to Milton, supposedly said after reading Paradise Lost, “This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too.” Though Milton was an old republican revolutionary and Dryden a loyal monarchist, Dryden liked Milton’s epic so much he adapted it for the stage by rewriting it in rhymed couplets and setting it to music.
Paul Van Dyck has done Dryden one better by keeping Milton’s sublime poetry unrhymed and using all the modern theatrical arts to make Paradise Lost come to life at the FRIGID Festival. I can say without qualification that this is the best theater – the most relevant to our time, the most uplifting, the most artistic, simultaneously the most esoteric and exoteric, visually, aurally, and intellectually stimulating – that I have seen in a long time. And running under an hour, it makes getting some high culture as enjoyable as possible for those of us inflicted with ADD by the modern age.
Liz Duffy Adams’s play Dog Act is one of those, what do you call them? Where a thing is its definition? Like the word “pentasyllabic.” Anyway, it’s that, a Dog Act: the last shred of dignity the modern world can leave to the later-than-modern world, the no-longer-modern world, the future world. Whatever happens when pastiche becomes fact, that is Dog Act. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and no dream is more satisfying than “the present.”