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The Heavens of Hell

nytheatre.com review by Paul Hufker
June 12, 2009

What if Jesus quit his duties as savior, and decided to devote himself to the secular pursuit of opening a chic bistro? What if Satan's depression and listlessness in hell became so great that, for a change of pace, he went into interior design? That's just what happens in the new comedy The Heavens of Hell.

Writer/director Evan Storey imagines an afterlife where Jesus and Satan, both overcome by the enormity and monotony of their respective jobs, by way of apathy, turn over their cosmic duties to their secretaries when they both discover they can no longer continue. Jesus is jealous of the success of his father's new reality TV show (featuring the Kardashians and produced by Ryan Seacrest) and has decided to immerse himself in the culinary arts, with an eye towards making the focal point of his existence feeding Heaven, rather than saving Earth. Satan has taken a slightly more bizarre turn; he dresses in drag, wishes to be called "Lucy" not "Lucifer," and is popping enough pills and swilling enough gin to put Robert Downey, Jr. to shame. If he doesn't watch it, the play informs us, he may well pull a "Heath Ledger." (What? Too soon? Not for this play.)

Hell begins to fill with bodies when Jesus becomes more concerned with souffle than salvation, and refuses to sign the list that decides just who is to go to Heaven, and who is not so lucky. The two secretaries may as well put differences aside, unite, and get these two entities, whose jobs are sorely needed, back on track.

The jokes are topical, occasionally political, clever, and punchy (they're not vulgar, per se, though this show is not for the kids). The actors are well cast, and the conceit is clever, not tired. The costumes and set design are also well done and serve to contrast Heaven and Hell effectively.

Evan Storey is funny indeed as the rather Eddie Izzard-like Satan, and Anthony Marino does a nice turn as a jaded Jesus. The two secretaries, Anton Koval (Satan's secretary) and Kelly Fox (Jesus's) are effective and well cast. Both bring high energy, and understand the material and style.

The performance however, had the feel of a play that, like so many, just needed one more week of rehearsal. The set changes were awkward and abrupt, and the script, while amusing, is repetitive at times. The vignettes shift between Heaven and Hell too frequently, not offering enough new information or driving the plot of a play that seems like it wants to always be moving, and always as quickly as possible. The actors often shuffle onstage, as if they weren't blocked, and a few exchanges hang in the air, unfinished. Storey, as director, might be too attached to his words and moments as playwright.

Overall, though, the comedy has moxie, energy, and enough zingers to fill out the evening. The Heavens of Hell deserves a larger audience than it had Friday night, and hopefully it will get one.