Saturday, January 8, 2011

THE FALL OF HEAVEN • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

This is the first play by best-selling novelist Walter Mosley, best known for his mystery novels, including "Devil in a Blue Dress", "Six Easy Pieces" and "Fortunate Son", among many others.  This play is adapted from his novel, "The Tempest Tales".

Tempest Landry (Bryan Terrell Clark) is a guy who's… well… not perfect.  As he's going back and forth between his wife and his girlfriend on the phone, he's shot and killed on a Harlem sidewalk by police when they think he has a gun.  He finds himself at the gates of heaven, pleading his case to St. Peter.  Tempest insists that his petty transgressions were done for the greater good and that he doesn't deserve to be cast down into the pits of hell.  He refuses to go.  That doesn't sit well with St. Peter, and also seems an unexpected precedent.  Being the first soul to challenge the sentence of heaven, Tempest slips through a loophole and finds himself back in Harlem, with an accounting angel, Joshua Angel (Corey Allen), whose job it is to convince Tempest of his past wrongdoings and accept St. Peter's judgement.
Bryan Terrell Clark (Tempest Landry).
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis © Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Things get complicated when Angel starts to settle into his human form, discovers that keeping a day job is not a piece of cake, and finds himself falling in love with one of Tempest's girlfriends, Branwyn (Kenya Brome).  Angel has his own struggles discovering that sins aren't necessarily black and white once you're inserted into the world as a black man in a human body in Harlem, facing everyday temptations and dilemmas.

There's a lot riding on the shoulders of Tempest.  If he maintains his refusal of St. Peter's judgement, heaven will collapse, and allow the devil to reign supreme.  Later in the play we're introduced to Satan himself, Basil Bob (Jeffrey C. Hawkins), decked out in a snazzy black suit and red tie.  He's also vying for Tempest's loyalty.  Never enough minions for the devil, ya know.  Even though the second act drags a little, I found it to be a refreshing presentation with a modern urban voice that re-examines the age-old predicament of the line between good and evil, and taking your fate into your own hands.
Kenya Brome (Branwyn Weeks)
and Corey Allen (Joshua Angel).
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
© Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Robert Mark Morgan's Harlem street set was beautiful in combination with Michael Lincoln's lighting design.  Against this backdrop, platforms were smoothly tracked in and out representing a bar, bedrooms, a restaurant, and a trap door office.  Rusty Wandall's sound design was also seamless, every now and then accentuating Joshua and Bob's voice, just to remind you that these aren't mortals we're dealing with here.  The costumes informed the modern characters and under the direction of Seth Gordon, the performances across the board were strong.  It's very easy to root for Clark's Tempest, and you could see Allen's Angel wrestle with his responsibilities as the accounting angel, while having to walk in a mortal's shoes.  This play will be running at the Loretto-Hilton until the 30th.  Check it out!

Jeffrey C. Hawkins (Basil Bob), Corey Allen (Joshua Angel)
and Bryan Terrell Clark (Tempest Landry).
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis © Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
THE FALL OF HEAVEN

Written by Walter Mosley
Directed by Seth Gordon
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through January 30 | tickets: $15 - $70
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Cast:
Corey Allen (Joshua Angel), Kenya Brome (Branwyn Weeks), Bryan Terrell Clark (Tempest Landry), Jeffrey C. Hawkins (Basil Bob/Saint Peter/Mr. Chin/Mr. Akbar), Rachel Leslie (Alfreda/Darlene/Ensemble), Jerome Lowe (Ensemble) and Borris York (Ensemble).

Creative:
Set design by Robert Mark Morgan; costume design by Myrna Colley-Lee; lighting design by Michael Lincoln; sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Champe Leary; assistant stage manager, Tony Dearing.

3 comments:

  1. I really thought this was one of the coolest, smartest, most original pieces of theatre I've seen in a very long time. I found it absolutely thriling. It had everything I want from theatre -- big ideas, deep emotional complexity, laughs, lots of surprises, and something new to say about our times. To my mind, this was a play about how the black-and-white of traditional religion is no longer relevant. The world is too complex now and we live in gray area, so the old strict rules have to be discarded -- in other words, heaven has to fall.

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  2. I completely agree, Scott. I loved hearing this story in a new voice -- a voice that compels you to recognize that, like you said, things aren't black and white. There are many shades of gray. It was neat to see heaven and hell kind of in the hands of this "everyday guy", living the life he can. And seriously, was the black and white with NO gray of religion ever relevant? Or realistic? Not really. Not to me anyway. But don't get me started... :)

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  3. Great Play!!- Bryan Terrell Clark is such an amazing actor, he plays the role of Tempest very well. This play is so realistic that I am hoping we are able to plead our cases like tempest when we are called before the judge :-). The grey area, like you all said is a huge issue now that things in the world are more complex. But, we know that God looks at the heart of the matter, and I think thats why tempest was such a puzzling case- he made mistakes but in the end, he was a man with a good heart.

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