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THEATER | THEATER BEAT

'Heaven' mixes thriller, allegory

November 29, 2002|David C. Nichols

An ominous undercover policeman. An obsessive human rights lawyer. A juggling junkie. An irreconcilably estranged wife. A rabbi of conflicted interests. A reluctant police informant. A prototypical urban park where their seemingly coincidental destinies collide, leading to an overpopulated afterlife.

These archetypal elements form the foundation of George F. Walker's 2000 "Heaven," receiving its local premiere at Sacred Fools. The celebrated Canadian playwright's "millennium play" is a hybrid of gritty thriller and existential allegory, with results both unkempt and intriguing.

Walker's idiosyncratic style is an acquired taste. From the B-movie absurdism of 1974's "Mozambique" and Jacobean pastiche of 1977's "Zastrozzi" to the nihilistic Turgenev reconstruction of 1988's "Fathers and Sons," Walker's iconoclasm sees philosophy and dramaturgy as inextricable. This dichotomy is central to "Heaven."

The production counts obvious assets in director Maurice Lord's smooth staging and the adept designs, particularly Carlos Fedos' skewed setting.

The proficient cast is another plus. Adam Bitterman's riveting cop shifts from jocular to psychotic on a hairpin trigger, and Sam R. Ross' defender devolves from manic to moribund with finesse.

Victor Isaac's unwilling patsy has limited range but infinite commitment, and Johanna McKay's wife is excellent. As the poles of reason and metaphor, Paul Byrne's rabbi and Crystal Keith's addict are understated and effective.

What is less so is Walker's ambitious, typically overstuffed script, which conjoins elements of David Mamet and Dennis Potter without attaining full cohesion between them. Perhaps this is also intentional, but less adventurous playgoers should nonetheless exercise caution.

-- David C. Nichols

"Heaven," Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, L.A. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 21. $15. (310) 281-8337. Mature audiences. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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