Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Photos by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Heaven’ Awaits at The Rep’

by Marcus Maat Atkins

“Are you a black man or a white man trapped in an angel’s body?”

This is refraining question and the derivatives thereof, that Tempest Landry said to his guardian angel, Johnny Angel in author Walter Mosley’s first stageplay, “Fall of Heaven” when Landry returned back to Earth from Judgment of Heaven or Hell After the last scene, it was evident that Johnny Angel was an angel trapped in a mortal body.

Bryan Terrell Clark in the opening scene.

Staged at The Repertory Theatre in St. Louis until Jan 30, “Heaven,” directed by Seth Gordon, is “Heaven Can Wait” and “Taming of The Shrew” urban style, setting Harlem in the 21 st century. The story involves a street savvy gent, Tempest Landry (played by Bryan Terrell Clark) who is accidentally shot by the police and sent to St. Peter’s for judgment and sentenced to Hell. After much discernment, he is given a second chance to prove his case when he is given another mortal body and runs into Johnny Angel (played by Corey Allen) who was sent by Heaven to watch over Landry. In the meantime, both men are tempted by the carnalities of life questioning each other’s purpose and waiting for their mortal fate when they are “called again.”

“Heaven”, which is derived from Mosley’s novel, “The Tempest Tales,” can be viewed on two levels: the literal and the metaphorical. On the literal, it is a tale of one given a second chance in life after being judged by the powers that be (in this case going back to Earth from Heaven to use ones free will to make changes in ones life). On the metaphorical, the play is also about black men and their socioeconomic status in a slave-master paradigm. Case in point, when Basil Bob (the Devil, Beelzebub played by Jeffrey Hawkins) appears as a racially insensitive gangster who rescues Landry from his homelessness after leaving Harlem when he discovers Angel cohabitating with his current girlfriend, Branwyn (played by Kenya Brome). When he returns, Landry moves in Bob’s swanky apartment, is given money and clothes to wear—but for a price, his soul and a damning to Hell.

Jeffery Hawkins and Cook in a scene where Basil Bob wants Tempest's soul .

The main characters of “Heaven” are OK at best. With the exception of Allen’s booming Shakespearean bass- toned voice, the characters appear to be swallowing the weight of Mosley’s stalwart work. One only wonders if the actors were a bit more seasoned or older, the roles they are playing would probably have appeared more believable. But that’s not to say that the cast didn’t have its moments, especially seeing the tragic metamorphosis of Allen’s character Angel fall from a powerful immortal being to a powerless mortal being (the vibrant love scene between Allen and Brome set under Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s “The Closer I Get to You” is worth the price of admission alone).

Kenya Brome and Corey Allen in a scene waiting for Tempest.

The set, designed by Robert Mark Morgan, is simple yet intricate of a backdrop of Harlem brownstones and downstaged with mechanical mini stages that moved back and forth and up and down and used as transitions for bed room office and bar scenes that kept the flow of the play in tact.

Hawkins, Allen and Cook in one of the culminating scenes from the play.

“Heaven” can easily become a classic in the same breath as Tennessee Williams’ or August’s Wilson’s seminal works as it speaks to challenge Western civilization’s ideas of religion, spirituality and one’s free will to choose one’s fate. The fall in this case is the fall of Western ideology and thought and the rise in challenging the systems that controls civilization.

For ticket info for “Fall of Heaven” go to http://www.repstl.org/season/show/the_fall_of_heaven/

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