Gender in “It’s Not Me, It’s You: A Paradise Lost Reimagining”
As we developed our show, in addition to setting the tone, we also had to make a decision about the role of gender. Paradise Lost refers to Lucifer and the other angelic characters as male, using the pronouns he/him. But this choice is rather incidental – nothing in the work, and especially nothing in the portions we incorporated into our script, at all required it. And, thinking about how angels are portrayed in the Christian and Jewish traditions, it seemed rather odd to attempt to force angels to be either male or female. The actors portraying angels in our performance are all female-bodied, and none identify as male. Should they attempt to portray “male” angels, “female” angels, or just angels? And what does it mean for a creature described to be mostly wings and eyes to be male? Or one that has four different faces, three of them bestial? In our script there was no reason for any character to express any kind of gender, one way or the other.
Other artists faced with the challenge of portraying angels have taken a variety of approaches. Gabriel has historically been portrayed as a feminine-looking man, and is now sometimes depicted as female/ played by a female actor. Some writers portray all angels as male, while others portray angels as male or female. Alternately some series of movies opted for male and female, making all the angels hermaphrodites.
In the show our costumes reflected the description in Isaiah Chapter 6 of seraphim having 6 wings and many eyes. This also came from the description of Proginoskes in Madeline L’Engel’s YA novel, 'A Wind in the Door'. Proginoskes is a moving bundle of hundreds of wings, innumerable eyes, and small jets of flame. He also identifies as an almost plural being, stating: “I am practically plural. I am certainly not a cherub. I am a singular cherubim.” This supported our choice to use the pronoun “they” for all our characters, which can indicate genderless, singular, or plural beings making a great fit for our portrayal where traditional gender politics are not in play.
Ultimately, we were most inspired by a line from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in their nocel 'Good Omens': “Many people, meeting Aziraphale for the first time, formed three impressions: that he was English, that he was intelligent, and that he was gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide. Two of these are wrong: Heaven is not in England, whatever certain poets may have thought, and angels are sexless unless they really want to make an effort.”
The choice to be genderless allows for something of an inside joke during the fight scene between Michael and Lucifer. Michael at one point grabs Lucifer and knees them in the groin. Though both men and women would normally find this extremely uncomfortable, Lucifer is unaffected. Both characters, in their confusion, look at the crouches of their costumes and, finding them smooth, shrug their shoulders. This also refers back to the scene in the movie Dogma where the Metatron explains to Bethany that he is “as anatomically impaired as a Ken doll” as he pulls his pants down to prove his point. For a multitude of silly, serious, artistic, and personal reasons, having our characters be genderless struck us as the right call.