Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
The Ti-Ahwaga Community Players are closing out out their 2017-2018 season with Heaven Can Wait, a three-act play about the afterlife, and what might happen if you get there too soon.
Harry Segall’s comedy is a lot of fun, despite death being its main plot point, but as with any farce, you have to pay attention. With one intermission, it runs about 2 hours and 10 minutes, which is perhaps 10 minutes longer than it needed, but the surprisingly poignant conclusion is worth the wait.
Thirty-something Joe Pendleton has been in a plane crash, but before the well-known boxer’s private plane hits the ground, his soul is taken by a well-meaning but inexperienced liaison between Earth and Heaven. Problem is, he’s not supposed to get there until 50 years later.
Of course, Mr. Jordan — a St. Peter-like presence, but in a suit and tie — would like to send Joe back to New Jersey, but it isn’t going to be easy. Todd Smith’s portrayal of Mr. Jordan is understated and appropriately reserved (and he also gets credit for the beautiful set design and construction, that, with help from Jack Klapprodt’s lighting and Michael Kane’s sound design, allows for a few different locations without too much commotion on stage).
Seth Vaughn as Joe is funny in a dopey, punch-drunk kind of way. To reclaim what is supposed to be left of his life, he has to appropriate the body of someone whose time was legitimately up, one Jonathon Farnsworth, a millionaire. This has its pluses and minuses, without which, the silly premise of the play might fall flat. It doesn’t, though, and we want to find out how the mix-up can be resolved.
Martin Reilly as Messenger 7013, the heavenly bureaucrat who created the snafu for Joe, looks and sounds a bit like Michael Caine, slightly bemused and exasperated. It’s his job to try to correct the mistake he made by bringing Joe to heaven prematurely.
Scheming lovers Julia Farnsworth and Tony Abbott pass several good expressions between them when their best-laid plans to do away with her husband don’t pan out the way they hope, and Joe moves into her murdered husband’s body. They are well played by Kerry Kane and Ron Harris.
Enter Bette Logan, adding another twist to the plot and a love interest for Joe/Jonathon. Sweetly played by Kristina Jackson, who looks and sounds like Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, A Handmaid’s Tale), Jackson’s quiet delivery could benefit from more projection.
This is true also of Tina Eyer as Farnsworth’s housekeeper, Mrs. Ames. By the time the voices of these lovely and capable actors reach the third or fourth tier of the house, which has bistro seating and nuts on the menu (crunch, crunch), it’s easy to miss some key dialogue by the softer spoken members of the cast.
Joe Schmieg plays Max Levene, Joe’s confused boxing manager. His character naturally finds himself in the midst of the funniest scenes, and he squeezes every drop out of them like a sweaty towel in a boxing ring. His performance is a knockout.
With Schmieg, Jim Tornatore (Lefty) and Ti-Ahwaga regular Jim Osborne (Inspector Williams), the company proves once again that you can keep doing this acting thing, and do it really well, for a long time.
Rounding out the ensemble in the supporting roles are Kendra Katchuk (nurse and Ann), Peggy Medina (Susie and producer), Isaac Weber and Cameron Cole (plainclothesmen and workmen), Michael Medina and again, Cameron Cole (passenger and groupie) and Gordon Wu (the doctor). Taking a page out of the Hitchcock playbook is Sonny Dewitt, Ti-Ahwaga’s executive director. His cameo appearance as “first escort” comes early in the play.
Linda Fenescey, a familiar face on the TCP’s stage, goes behind the scenes here, capably directing Heaven Can Wait with help from her young assistant director, Evelyn Medina, who also does a brief turn on stage as a passenger.
Jane Nichol’s costumes are wonderful. I couldn’t wait to see what Mrs. Farnsworth would be wearing next.
Kaitlin Morey and Kathy Nichols share the duties of stage manager, while Jane Katchuk and Sarah Hogan manage the house. Set construction workers include Carl Fenescy, Mike Katchuk, Chris Reilly, Leon Schecengost and Corrine O’Leary. Lorelei Cole is listed as animal handler. Her little dog was only on for a moment, but so well behaved and adorable.
You can see by the names listed here that the work of this company is often a family affair. Ti-Ahwaga is also fortunate to have so many young folks, many not out of school, willing and able to devote their time to the company.
IF YOU GO: Heaven Can Wait, which opened June 1, will be performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 17 at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego. For ticket information, visit www.tiahwaga.com, or call 687-2130.