Tina Turner may call love a “second hand emotion” but neuroscientists are eager to discover the vital brain chemistry at work in “romantic love.” PARADISE (@ Central Square Theatre through May 7th) is Laura Maria Censabella’s lovely two character play, ostensibly about a disillusioned high school teacher and a bright, inquisitive student. But Censabella makes it much, much more.
The teacher is an embittered former academic whose research, years ago, was stolen by a fellow scientist. His life took a downward slide after the incident and now he finds himself teaching high school in the Bronx. The spunky student who asks him for help is an engaging teenager whose staunchly Muslim family emigrated from Yemen and steadfastly observes its customs. She wears the traditional headscarf. She is expected at eighteen to accept an arranged marriage. And at the same time she wants to be a scientist. She’s obsessed “with the hidden world of the structure of things.”
At first he turns her down but then relents when he experiences her passionate determination. She’s keen on proving that “love is more than evolution.” He encourages her to find “a new way to look at the adolescent brain” because current science dismisses ‘reasoning’ in teenagers altogether, because of “an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex.” You might think this all sounds rather abstract but it’s not. She brings out the best in him and he in her. It’s a love story that’s not romantic in nature.
Director Shana Gozansky has two extraordinary actors to animate Censabella’s intimate story. Barlow Adamson takes his character on a breathtaking journey from despair to truth to compassion to sacrifice and generosity through love. His tour de force is matched by Caitlin Nasema Cassidy’s fireball of energy. Like Adamson’s teacher, we can’t resist her ebullient spirit. Like him, we are won over by the beauty of the Koran passage she sings to him. She struggles mightily with the divide created by her religious devotion but it’s the teacher’s struggle that truly breaks our heart.