There is a distinctive way many Irish theater productions play out, and your enjoyment of Heaven might depend on if you love, hate or are indifferent to that style. Heaven is a two hander, where the actors speak directly to the audience. Often, in Irish plays, one character talks to the audience for the entire show. But in this one, both characters talk one on one to the audience, albeit never at the same time.
The characters are a married couple, Mairead (May) and Mal. May is played by Janet Moran in a wistful but lovely turn. Mal is played by Andrew Bennett with more self-loathing and awakening but the same skill. They each describe their marriage and their feelings and questions to the audience. Both partners are separately challenged at the reception of a wedding they are attending.
|Janet Moran and Andrew Bennett in Heaven (photo: Ste Murray)|
May discusses the rut her marriage is in, the bitterness of having a daughter that fights with her every time they talk, and the disappearing hope for the future. At the party, her assumptions about her complacent life are challenged by the return of an old beau. One with which she had fantastic sexual chemistry.
At the same party MAL, a sober alcoholic, reflects on his hidden sexuality, hidden even from himself in many cases.. A sexuality that manifests itself it some very interesting fantasies about Jesus freeing him from his repression. His internal struggles are deeply felt as are May’s.
The story uses the background of the wedding to illustrate May’s struggles. The story uses a background sexual frustration and then a man's inducements to have Mal to partake of liquor and cocaine to illustrate Mal’s struggles. Neither analogy is as heavy handed as it sounds. And both May and Mal build the tension slowly until it grows to consume them.
I enjoyed the show very much, despite my dislike of the format. Few shows handle this setup as well at Heaven – the last I saw done this well was A Steady Rain on Broadway with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. Janet Moran and Andrew Bennet are not nearly as famous as that pair, but these two also inhabit their characters fully and believably.
Written by Eugene O’Brian and directed by Jim Culleton, the timing of the soliloquies and the passion of them is a credit to both. It is a simple set and design in order to bring the characters front and center with lighting and subtlety. I enjoyed it very much.
Playwright: Eugene O’Brian | Director: Jim Culleton | Cast: