Hell: Paradise Found is a funny and lighthearted look at the assumptions we make with regards to the afterlife. Produced by the University of Alabama, this show is probably reaching a much less religious audience here in New York than it would in the South. But Hell: Paradise Found neither depends on religion, nor does it mock the religious among us. The show is a simply a different way of looking at Heaven and Hell.
It all starts as Simon Ackerman, everyman lawyer played by Matt Lewis, wakes up in an Interview room trying to catch up with an Interviewer determined to hurry through the process. It is pretty quickly explained that Mr. Ackerman has passed away, and after a cursory interview is sent off to Heaven. But, when Hell is denied to him, Hell suddenly intrigues Mr. Ackerman. He sets out to find why he isn’t accepted into Pit of Doom. And he finds that assumptions, particularly about the afterlife, can be right and wrong at the same time.
Playwright Seth Panitch has taken a clever idea, and expanded it into a well written piece. It is a play that treats religion respectfully, but without undue reverence. In Hell, Mr. Ackerman sees a litany of characters, Mother Teressa, Lizzie Bordon, Don Juan - but not Princess Di, she is in Heaven. God and Lucifer make an appearance as well, old friends across the millennium. Only Archangel Gabriel is portrayed unfavorably, Gabriel is an officious toady in Hell: Paradise Found.
The acting is best when limited to a single character, Dianne Teague as God and Seth Panitch as The Interviewer both turn in first rate performances. Most of the rest of the cast is enthusiastic but inconsistent. They are often excellent in the well written roles, Eve, Gabriel or Don Juan for example, but they are less convincing in quicker roles that rely on the audiences’ familiarity with them, Vlad the Impaler, Shakespeare or Lizzie Borden. Regardless, many of these actors show amazing promise and you should keep an eye out for them in the future.
The energy the cast gives off is engaging. Occasionally a joke will fall flat, but another comes right up so the pace doesn’t flag. The cast never gives less than 100% and their joy is infectious.
Hell: Paradise Found is a fun show, see it and enjoy.
Hell: Paradise Found
Playwright and Director: Seth Panitch
Cast: Matt Lewis, Dianne Teague, Chip Persons, Lawson Hangartner, Peyton Conley, Alexandra Ficken, Stacy Panitch, Seth Panitch