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It takes a 'Leap' to believe this one

Arnold Margolin's play almost makes a worn premise work, but there are nagging questions about the story's rules.

September 18, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

At one point in Arnold Margolin's "Leap," now at the Falcon Theatre, the protagonist wryly comments, "Do you know how many times I've seen this done?"

We second that query. How many times has a fictional work involved a supernatural visitation from a guardian angel or, conversely, from a fiend of hell? On the satanic side, we have "Damn Yankees," "The Omen" and "The Devil's Advocate," to name just a few. Representing the angels, consider "The Bishop's Wife," "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Heaven Can Wait." Even Holly Hunter gets into the act with her new cable series, "Saving Grace."

A more salient question might be, "Can a premise this tired, worn-out and consistently belabored still work?" In "Leap," the answer is, surprisingly -- almost.

The play offers two paranormal agents -- both angelic and demonic -- for the price of one. Just as Bob Kanicki (stalwart Michael Kagan), a washed-up TV writer, is about to leap from his seventh-floor urban apartment (Melissa Ficociello's nicely seedy set design), his young neighbor Bub (capable Adam Conger) rushes in to save him.

We soon learn that Bub (short for Beezlebub) is an emissary of the Dark Lord, and we don't mean Voldemort. Here's where it gets a bit confusing: Bub is adamantly determined to stop Bob from offing himself so that he can barter for his immortal soul.

But if Bub had just waited for Bob to splat in the courtyard, wouldn't he have harvested his soul anyway? Perhaps Margolin didn't quite make the link between suicide and eternal damnation, but religious beliefs aside, if a writer is operating within a theological construct, however freely interpreted, he must connect the dots -- or at least explain them away. As it is, Bub's intervention seems strangely timed. So does the tardy arrival of Anna (overly perky Emily Stapleton, sporting costume designer Joanie Coyote's hideously fluffy ensemble). Bob's long-dead first love, Anna is now an angel here to save Bob's soul -- and if that includes belatedly bedding Bob, then so be it.

Say what? Isn't spurious sex considered a bit, well . . . unheavenly? It seems the angelic Anna can act on her randy human urges at a whim. And the satanic Bub is really just a sweet college kid who eventually gets very busy indeed with Anna.

It's all a bit morally relativistic, not to mention purely muddled, as is Bob's insistence that he is damned no matter what he does -- particularly perplexing, since he seems like a pretty nice guy. Yet Margolin, himself a savvy sitcom veteran, wrests every conceivable laugh out of his clich├ęd concept while also imbuing it with considerable depth and sophistication.

Unfortunately, Susan Morgenstern's strident, over-the-top staging does the play poor service. Morgenstern unfailingly emphasizes the obvious, when a more subtle interpretation might have delivered laughs without losing the intellectual subtleties along the way.



Where: Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Oct. 7

Price: $25 to $37.50

Contact: (818) 955-8101

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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