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A CurtainUp Review

Getting Into Heaven
By Amanda Cooper

South Side Cafe

Polly Draper and Gretchen Egolf
Polly Draper and Gretchen Egolf (Photo: Peter Jacobsen)
The stage is outlined with a concert-like edge which frames the set-up of a chic bed that is directly in front of a lite-brite-esque wall. TVs of various sizes are strategically sprinkled downstage, and rock n' roll music is at a just audible level. As the lights dim, the music becomes louder. Actors enter and begin the male/female undressing ritual. But these two are not familiar with each other's bodies. There is awkwardness, and a forced comfort. As Getting Into Heaven's original storyline unfurls, five multi-faceted characters travel through tragedy with abandon; reflecting on actions all too late.

Cat Venita is an aged rock star still performing to packed Parisian halls. Though the opening scene of Polly Draper's show is the foreplay of a heterosexual act, there is much mystery-laden dialogue surrounding this fumbling scene. All becomes clearer as we then see Cat (played by Draper) make out with her band drummer and lesbian partner Rose. The play's complications continue to pile as we learn that these two women share a son, fathered by Jed, the man we first saw lie with Cat . . .yet the biological mother is her girlfriend Rose, who originally dated Jed's brother, who has died. And this is all within the first fifteen minutes!

Though the dialogue can be repetitive, and then often runs by ideas too quickly, the seemingly endless eccentricities of this group are expressed casually and smoothly. The humor interspersed within the harsh drama wavers between dry and silly, striking the best balance with Crystal (Barbara eda-Young), Jed's flaky, formerly psychic mother. Ms. Draper's true writing strength lies in her ability to create contrasting, complementary three-dimensional characters, even if they are not always performed to their full potential.

Gretchen Egolf plays Rose and cameos as the mysterious Rose look-alike nurse (a plot loose end) with impressive character range and believability. She quickly switches from earthy, experienced Rose to uptight, nerdy and naive Amber.

Barbara eda-Young as the hysterical Crystal is true comic relief, but at times her ethereal nature reaches a stereotypical plateau, squandering opportunities to show her more vulnerable side in regards to her "phantom caller. " James Badge Dale as the angsty white rapper/DJ and father, Jed, gives a raw, yet surprisingly sad and poignant performance. His love for Rose and desperation to leave his brother's looming shadow feels honest and deeply rooted.

Egolf and Badge-Dale together have wonderfully dark chemistry, making their pull towards and against each other palpable. Draper's portrayal of Cat wavered between an aging tough rock babe, and a washed-up impression of one. Though Draper pulled off the tattoos and leather pants, her need to still perform and her ability to perform is debatable. Cooper Pillot as Cat and Rose's young son was endearing, and his love of being on stage was easily apparent.

With the TVs, the back wall covered in a light bulb grid, and the visible lights on either side of the stage, the lighting and set design, by Junghyun Georgia Lee and Matthew Richards respectively, are in harmony, providing a collaborative feel for the multi-media aspects of this show. Consequently, the Brechtian influenced elements and scene changes are easy to warm up to, and, in the truest Brecht sense, soon alienating - activating our minds, not irking them. Jenny Mannis' costumes are apt and the music by Michael Wolff pushes the rock subtext beyond the ability of words. Claire Lundberg's direction is generally on target even though some high voltage dramatic scenes come off as piercingly awkward.

Death is a consistent theme throughout, but Heaven is only brought into the picture twice. These two instances feel too purposeful, and not applicable enough to the other conversations about those who are not still living.

Despite the tight performance and many quality attributes, the shaky aspects and loose ends add up to a Getting Into Heaven that's not exactly cloud nine. It would have been helpful to have a dramaturg to provide a third pair of eyes and ears, especially with the playwright doubling as the leading actress.

Writer: Polly Draper
Director: Claire Lundberg
Cast: James Badge, Polly Draper, Barbara eda-Young, Gretchen Egolf and Cooper Pillot
Music Composer: Michael Wolff
Music Producers: Michael Wolff and Michael Levine
Set Design: Junghyun Georgia Lee
Light Design: Matthew Richards
Costume Design: Jenny Mannis
Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Video by: Topiary Productions/Nara Garber & Ben Wolf
Running Time: Two and a Half hours, with one intermission
The Flea Theater, 41 White Street (Church and Broadway, three blocks south of Canal) 212/ 226-2407
Wednesday - Saturday at 7pm with a 3pm Saturday matinee--$25
6/11/03 - 8/2/03, opening 7/2/03
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on 6/25 performance

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