The Lilith of Jewish folklore is the first first wife, created at the same time as Adam, and different from Eve because she was made from the same clay as her husband rather than from his rib. Things didn’t work out between Lilith and Adam—she refused to submit, left him, and possibly became a demon. In 1987, visionary science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler reimagined Lilith as a Black woman creating a new breed of beings. In the late 1990s, Lilith inspired a music festival consisting of women artists. And she is the only character in Lilith and Her Demons, a song cycle that adapts a collection of poems by Enid Dame. Created by Apartment 20, a new ensemble theater collective, the piece uses music to explore Lilith’s journey.
A powerful approach
Generations have reclaimed Lilith as an icon of female independence, and she has been associated with music since the Lilith Fair. What Lilith and Her Demons does that’s interesting and new is cast Lilith as an ensemble. The show notes describe her as played “at once and individually” by “folks who are anything but cisgender, heterosexual, white men.” That would make a wonderful visual, but this performance of Lilith and Her Demons is audio only. That’s one reason why the polyvocal approach to Lilith’s experience is so powerful. Combined with lyrics adapted from Dame’s excellent source material and set to music by Sarah Hough, they make Lilith and Her Demons a thought-provoking concept album concert about how and where we see Lilith today.
Voices of Lilith
The different voices that sing Lilith’s story seem to say that she is in all of us, here and now. She transcends time and place, having quit Eden for a motel in Newark. And she is an exile, for even though Lilith left of her own accord, “I won’t go back / I can’t go back / To the world,” as the ensemble sings in the opening song.
These days, most of us feel exiled from our own lives, and this Fringe Festival, I feel particularly isolated from experiencing live performance in a theater with other humans. But even when it becomes safe to resume our old ways of living, we can’t go back to the way things were before coronavirus. Nor can we welcome oppression, like Eve, described here as the “sweet-tempered” and “aproned” second wife living in a marriage of lies. Lilith and Her Demons struck me as particularly resonant for these times.
Nine vocalists give solid performances accompanied by music on piano and strings, with orchestrations by Damien Figueras. Marlee Waleik’s voice is a standout, particularly in “Lilith and Eve,” a song about the two women meeting at a tenants’ rights rally. Lilith and Her Demons progresses through this relationship and others, including the listener’s relationship with Lilith. Angel, demon, temptress, mother, creator, destroyer: she’s all these things and more. The song cycle ends by exploring Lilith’s relationship with herself. The chorus of voices singing “I’ve never trusted myself” and “I’ve never trusted my power” reveals that Lilith is just like us.
Image Description: A fancifully colored painting shows a naked woman from behind, with a snake wound around her, walking toward a roadside motel with a neon sign that says “Lilith and her Demons.”
What, When, Where
Lilith and her Demons. By Apartment 20. Through September 23, 2020, part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. More info here.
This show is intended for mature audiences.