Harry Segall's Heaven Can Wait is the source material from which there have been numerous film versions: most famously in 1941 (as Here Comes Mr. Jordan), 1978 (under this title), and the current Down to Earth with Chris Rock. There is undeniably something about the fantasy of the angels in charge of death making a mistake, and each film made it contemporaneous, thereby closing gaping plot holes and smoothing over thematic inconsistencies.
The production at the Spotlight On festival (directed by Ken Bachtold) was set in its original time frame, the late '30s, but had no directorial concept, not even a wrongheaded one, and nothing was brought to the serviceable text that wasn't covered with dust and the smell of mothballs. There was a perfectly nice set, very good costuming, and some fine supporting performances, but no raison d'être.
The rudderless quality also meant that the actors were either left to fend for themselves, or were directed as if they were in different plays. Frank Malvasi used a seemingly natural twinkle and was delightful as the messenger who erroneously plucked Joe Pendleton (Steven Voutsas) from an accident, even though it wasn't his time to die. Shawn Scott was nicely slimy as a murderous co-conspirator, and Rosemary Gore had a scatterbrained quality which served her well, even as she gave some oddball line readings ("I've told you everything! I know!")
William Jones was a low-key Mr. Jordan, Joe's guide to life in a recycled body, but he was unfortunately off-stage most of the time, delivering unseen advice and pronouncements. (Even Segall corrected this for his Oscar-winning 1941 screenplay.) Sean Eager was fine as Max Levene, who knew Joe previously and now has to be convinced that this person he doesn't know is the man he knew. And therein lay the rub - Voutsas as Joe was obviously enthusiastic, but either through an insufficiency of direction or ability, he lacked nearly everything needed to make Joe the center of the play. He did have a pronounced New Jersey-style accent, but it quickly became irritating, and it seemed to be the only personality trait the character had. Stacey Linnartz had little to do as Joe's love interest, and it was, unsurprisingly, an uphill battle.
Since time hung heavy, one could appreciate the set (uncredited) - a little shopworn, but it gave the needed impression of wealth. Costumes (uncredited) were exactly suited to each character - colorful socks and garish jackets for Eager's Max Levene, slick suits for Scott, and ostentatious outfits for Gore. Sound (by Louis Lopardi) was fine, with Jones nicely audible throughout.
Not all source materials of well-known properties need be resuscitated (Hollywood doesn't always ruin things). And even a leaky boat needs a rudder.
Also with Tim Katusha, Regina Dreyer Thomas, Doug Halsey, Alan
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita