Still earthbound in Highwood
|Attic Playhouse presents|
|Heaven Can Wait|
|By Harry Segall
Directed by Catherine Davis; assisted by Lauren Friedman
Attic Playhouse, 410 Sheridan Road, Highwood (map)
Through May 30 | Tickets: $20 advance, $22 door | more info
Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
I recently wrote that there’s good theater beyond the city limits, and so there is. And there’s bad and uneven theater in the city. Yet unsuccessful urban and suburban Chicagoland productions typically show distinct differences.
In the city, directors tend to be daring, premiering new plays and trying new treatments of old ones, and problems usually center on scripts or staging. In the suburbs, directors will more likely go for the tried-and-true. While occasionally they flub the treatment, the most severe flaws in suburban shows typically lie in the acting. Do suburban stages have trouble attracting the talent performing in urban storefronts, or are their directors just not skilled enough to make the most of it? I can’t tell.
Heaven Can Wait is a perfect example. Chicago playwright Harry Segall’s 1938 classic, the basis for four films — the Academy Award-winning “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” (1941) and “Heaven Can Wait” (1978), and the two versions of “Down to Earth” in 1946 and 2001 – is a sweet, silly comedy, the unlikely story of Joe Pendleton, a 23-year-old New Jersey palooka "collected" by heaven 60 years before his allotted time, and therefore allowed to reanimate a recently murdered, crooked banker. His host body’s wife and secretary are still bent on finishing him off; he falls in love with a young woman whose father the financier has railroaded into jail; and, intent on resuming his boxing career, he enlists his deceased self’s incredulous agent, Max Levene, to book a fight for the millionaire.
The cast ranges from excellent to eh. Andrew J. Pond (recently seen in Out of Order (our review ★★★★) at Arlington Heights’ Metropolis Performing Arts Centre) plays Levene in keenly expressive comic style, smooth, natural and so far outshining the other actors that it makes you wonder what he’s doing in this show.
The rest do mostly OK, but they have an unfortunate tendency to lapse into that awkwardly self-conscious, artificial delivery I can only describe as, "Look, Ma, I’m acting!"
Still, Ken Gayton is so adorable as Joe we can overlook that he chews the scenery as much as he pounds the punching bag. As the homicidal Mrs., Kimberley Hellem’s wonderfully mobile face makes up for her stiffness otherwise, and Brendan Hutt, as the heavenly guide Mr. Jordan, and Evan Voboril, as the murderous secretary, achieve subtlety more often than not. Probably, they’ll all loosen up as the production continues.
Director Catherine Davis’s effective staging makes the most of Attic’s small space. She has, however, taken Segall’s three-act play and reconfigured it into two, dividing the original second act in the middle, to the detriment of suspense. Whatever time savings she realized thereby were lost in slow pacing.
If not quite celestial, Heaven Can Wait still offers plenty of down-to-earth entertainment. The seats are cheap and the parking is free, so if you’re around the North Shore, have a look. You could pay more for worse in the city.