What if Adam and Eve lived today? For Fresno Pacific University (FPU) faculty member Mark Tyler Miller, the headline is not hard to imagine: “Couple evicted from home, one son kills other son.”
By exploring the idea, Miller, who serves as program director and assistant professor of theater at FPU, brought the story to life on stage with a reimagining of the biblical story in which a beanie-wearing Adam is homeless, Eve is in a new relationship and Cain is serving time in prison for murder.
“Adam and Eve are people that everyone knows, whether they have a relationship with Jesus or not,” Miller says. “I find their story to be incredibly universal. We all know what it is like to make a terrible choice, to choose ourselves, our pride, our lust, over God—even if just for a split second.”
In The Adam Bomb, a one-man, acoustic musical Miller wrote and toured, Miller does not shy away from the difficulties of the human experience but embraces the tension in both an authentic and hope-filled way.
Miller says he has had a desire to create something about Adam and Eve for a while, but his graduate school schedule kept him from it. Having previously earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in theater with an emphasis on musical theater from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Miller worked as a professional actor at several theater companies in Seattle for about three years before completing his master of fine arts degree in theater at the University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign.
Instead of returning to the hustle of the stage, Miller accepted his current position at FPU and moved to Fresno in July 2018. There, before the start of the fall semester, he found time for a new project.
The Adam Bomb began with a song. As Miller picked a new chord progression on his guitar, the sound sparked words that turned into verses and choruses and eventually became Drowning Man, the song used in the show at Adam’s breaking point.
“Drowning Man is all about trying to survive on your own, fighting from your own strength to solve your issues and how utterly hopeless that is,” Miller says. “We cannot fight against Satan without surrendering to Jesus and operating from the victory that he unleashed for us on Calvary.”
With inspiration to continue writing after receiving positive feedback on Facebook, Miller says a larger story began to take shape.
“I am fascinated by how Adam and Eve moved forward after leaving Eden—after knowing perfection,” Miller says. “This show is basically an exploration in imagining what life would’ve been like for them if this happened today—how do they keep going once cut off from utopia, and have to watch the results of their sin everyday—even in their own family?”
When the world falls apart
By September 2018, Miller had completed a first draft of the script.
The name, a play on words with “atom,” communicates that Adam views himself like a bomb that destroyed everything, Miller says.
“Adam and Eve are trying to figure out how to move on after their entire world has fallen apart,” Miller says, describing the premise in an essay written for FPU’s weekly email, Connections. “Adam is now homeless and plays his guitar on the street corner for cash. Eve is in a new relationship with a guy named Tim.… The reason it takes place today is because it forces the audience to deal with characters from the Bible as real people. We don’t see them as fig leaf wearing cartoons, but rather, a modern husband and wife, father and mother, who have lost their way, as well as their son(s).”
Using funds from a Provost Faculty Research Grant, Miller developed the show’s first full production.
Miller portrays all three characters, distinguishing between them with physical shifts and adding additional distinction by varying voicing in pitch, tempo and duration.
“I’ve found that many people can’t fathom one actor playing more than one thing at a time without the script being a series of monologues or using a large number of costume changes,” Miller says. “This script is written in scenes; it is mostly back-and-forth dialogue as opposed to a monologue format.”
In addition to being a solo, acoustic musical, The Adam Bomb is unique in its willingness to be truthful about the difficulties of the human experience—Miller kept in mind the realities of things like shame, self-hatred, depression and wickedness as he wrote.
“The Adam Bomb is a truly unique piece in that it honors God without giving up the intensity and truth of the human situation,” Miller says. “It’s a gritty reimagining of what Adam and Eve might be if they lived today but were going through the same circumstances. The songs go deep into questioning where God is and how to rectify what happened to the two of them.”
While being careful to acknowledge there is a place for a variety of art forms in the church, even ones of which he’s not a fan, Miller says he intentionally shied away from content he describes as “corny” and “churchy”—storylines wrapped in tidy bows or conflict too neatly sewn up—in favor of creating something realistic, raw and relatable.
“To me, the Christian experience is one of intensity,” Miller says. “We worship intensely, have intense pain, intense questions and intense joy. When that Drowning Man came out on paper, I knew there was something innately true in it—we are all messes traveling toward our heavenly home, and God meets us in the midst of it all.”
Miller says as he worked on the show, he decided it would be useful for outreach while showcasing a new style of Christian art to churches.
Following an April 25, 2019, premier at FPU, to which he invited pastors and church leaders, Miller toured the show at four Fresno-area churches the following summer.
“We had eight people respond publicly and accept Jesus as their Savior,” Miller says. “I can honestly say that for that reason alone, this is the most important show I’ve ever done.”
He welcomes opportunities to tour The Adam Bomb and is seeking producers to financially support a national tour.
“I want to do this show everywhere now, nationally and internationally,” Miller says. “I’ve seen that theater can be a great tool for ministry. I’ve seen that it is possible to create a show about God that doesn’t chase away nonbelievers.”
More recently, Miller directed a November production by the FPU theater department of Leaving Iowa: The Comedy About Family Vacations. He is working with a new script about Judas and John Wilkes Booth interacting in hell.
Miller also writes worship songs and serves as a worship leader at The Legacy Christian Church in Clovis, California.
“Our job as artists is to reflect truth to our audience, and I believe that means we have to be painfully honest about what we go through as humans,” Miller says. “We don’t do that to ever degrade or accuse God in any way, but rather to let others know that they are not alone in their pursuit of righteousness—it is a hard journey in this life but there is an abundance of love and freedom to be tapped into because he first loved us.”
For more information on a national tour of this show, contact Miller on Instagram at @theadambombmusical or Facebook at The Adam Bomb.