West of Eden

Paradise Misplaced

By Marilyn Lester
Directed by John Rasiej
The Pair-o'-dice Players
The Flatiron Theater
Non-union production (closes March 28)
Review by David Mackler

The title of Marilyn Lester's Paradise Misplaced has echoes of John Milton (and John Mortimer), but the play doesn't measure up to the cleverness of its title. Angels, Lucifer, Purgatory, Hell - they're all here, as are several good comic premises, but these characters merely argue and discuss and argue some more, and the play doesn't add up to the sum of even some of its parts.

According to this version of Paradise, Lucifer (Ray Forman) wasn't kicked out of Heaven, he left because of an argument over a game of cards: is Spit In The Ocean poker, or a kid's game? The question arises whether Lucifer's ego was wounded, or was the provocation staged with another purpose in mind? God's offstage voice is female (Luisa Di Capua), a clever twist, but her announcing a 5000-year plan that involves creating Las Vegas as a devil's playground falls flat.

Next we are in a saloon in Purgatory, a town in the Nevada desert, where they serve a brand of beer called Limbo. Bob Wanderman (get it?), played by Urban Ullman, shows up by mistake and doesn't understand what the audience discerns immediately - that the bar's patrons are all, yes, in Purgatory. They are also a mix of '30s and '40s movie stock characters - Errol (as in Flynn), Bubba (Forman) - a Gabby Hayes type, and Chet, the knowing bartender. Roger Webster gave Errol an amusing panache, and Richard Lester made Chet interestingly inscrutable.

Finally, we are in Las Vegas where Lucifer and St. Peter (Ullman) are slick men in suits. There is a deal to be made, and their arguments about the Judeo-Christian ethic are presented in terms of business, marketing analyses, and salesmanship. Forman was quite good here, showing an amusing facility for accents and giving the play an energy that it previously lacked. Di Capua was Wanda, a barmaid whose Brooklyn accent has come by way of Roma. But the concept of Vegas as a den of sin is dated - it is currently being sold in the same terms as the New 42nd Street.

Paradise Misplaced is a comic idea in search of some laughs which gets lost when it tries to dramatize arguments. It is difficult to get a laugh out of confusing Thomas Aquinas with Thomas à Kempis, but it is fun to have Lucifer referred to as Luce (which one -- Henry or Claire Booth?) John Rasiej's direction couldn't keep the play from being bogged down in its wordiness; the costumes (Luisa Rasiej) and scenic/lighting design (John Rasiej) were fine, with Wanda's get-up being especially notable in the annals of bad taste.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 David Mackler