Heaven Can Wait
Written by Harry Segall
Directed by Jeff Hass
At the Currier House Fishbowl
HEAVEN Can Wait is a perfect example of the ever-popular comedy which never seems to go out of style. Harry Segall's original first packed the theaters in 1938, under the title It Was Like This. Three years later, Hollywood snatched it up and turned it into the screen classic Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Decades later, Hollywood dug it up yet again, stuck yet another title ("Heaven Can Wait") on the marquee and milked one more hilarious blockbuster out of essentially the same script, this time starring heartthrob Warren Beatty and the venerable James Mason.
Luckily, the original clever, funny and downright likable core of this play has managed to emerge from each remake unscathed, and, if this slightly updated Currier House stage production is any indicator, there's still plenty of life left to keep new audiences happy.
Part of the success of Heaven Can Wait (or whatever you want to call it) can be credited to author Harry Segall's virtuoso incorporation of every popular comedy element known to man into a two-hour script. This play has it all: mistaken identities, fumbling criminals, an adorable romance, a working-class mug playing a millionaire, a boxing match, some good black humor, and a whole bunch of scenes set in heaven with genuine angels.
The plot is ingenious, and goes a little like one of those jokes that begins, "This guy goes to heaven, OK?..." In this case Joe Pendleton, a boxer, (or in Warren Beatty's version a professional football player, but then this play has gone through almost as many permutations as the jokes) is apparently about to die in a plane crash, and a newly hired angel, hoping to spare him some suffering, takes his soul a little early.
This rescue, as it turns out, was premature, as Pendleton wasn't fated to die for another 60 years. Before the snafu comes to light, however, his body has all too promptly been cremated. The heavenly officials are left no other choice but to offer Joe the option of taking someone else's body, and he chooses that of a millionaire banker whose wife and her lover have just drowned the genuine item in a bathtub.
JOHN Ducey, as the hapless, would-be champ, is clearly the driving force behind the show. He plays Pendleton with a goofy, aw-shucks grin reminiscent of Warren Beatty's but adds the distinct nuance of a die-hard Bruins fan. Draped in a baggy sweatsuit and perpetually bouncing on the toes of his high-top sneakers, Ducey's Pendleton doesn't quite pull off the New Jersey punk of the script, but his portrayal of the native Boston variety is equally winning. There's something about a really thick Boston accent, liberally sprinkled with words like "dame" and "mug," that assures the audience they're dealing with a regular guy.
Alexander Pak, as the obsequious sub-angel responsible for the mix-up, cringes and whines in just enough of an English accent to suggest a salesman at Harrod's in the presence of a gold card. Slippery and oh so discreet, he makes an hilarious foil for Ducey's bull-in-a-chinashop Bostonian.
The rest of the cast are uniformly good, if occasionally stricken with a slight first-weekend woodenness which should disappear. Steve Peterson, measuring in at somewhere over six feet, uses his own position somewhat nearer to heaven than most to his advantage as the omniscient and condescending Mr. Jordan, but it's hard not to miss James Mason in the role. Patrick O'Kelley provides a deliciously loathsome Tony Abbott, the sleazy lover who tries to drown his millionaire boss and make off with his wife.
Lighting is ably handled by Patrick Gurian, and some tricky special effects seem to run as planned. Director Jeff Hass also makes good use of the less than optimal performance space of the Currier House fishbowl. His updating of the script, with details like Bruce Springsteen and Sugar Ray Leonard, is on the whole useful and unobtrusive Especially amusing is Pendleton's query to an angel, "How's Elvis doing these days?"
If, like everybody else, you adored both the movie versions of Heaven Can Wait and are wondering if it's just as good onstage, it is. All that's required for a hell of a good time is a trip to the Quad.