Heaven on Earth
nytheatre.com review by Rachael Richman
February 17, 2011
What a delight to spend an evening in Charles L. Mee’s Heaven on Earth playing this month at La MaMa E.T.C. Dan Safer skillfully weaves text, music, movement, video, and plenty of whimsy into this collaboration between Witness Relocation (USA) and Ilda! Eldi (Lyon, France).
The world has ended and fractured life is scattered around the stage in piles of TVs, abandoned bikes, strings of raw lights, and… a ballerina. It may be the apocalypse but, after all, it’s a beautiful day. Birds are singing, fluffy clouds pass over TV screens, lost souls wander on stage in elegant clothes.
Heaven on Earth is a difficult piece to sum up without feeling like I’ve left the best parts out (you really have to be there, and I recommend that you go). However, I’ll try: a bunch of earnest people struggle with some of life’s big questions, and find joy in small pleasures.
Perhaps Safer says it best himself: “The world keeps ending and we are still fine. We lose sight that heaven on earth is in the tiny details. Even while you are looking at an apocalypse, you can still find a perfect moment in a cup of coffee, sitting on a beach at night, or a kitten.”
Mee has compiled a collage of stories and thoughts from a myriad of sources, including: Greek Democracy, Oprah, biodiversity in seeds, and stock car racing. But part of what I loved was that text did not dominate. At some moments, words were more texture than meaning, a compound of sound and imagery alternately explosive and hypnotic.
Particularly captivating are the vigorous dance sequences, choreographed by Safer. The movements are fiercely executed by the cast, and ranged from tender duets to line dancing to the simple act of smoking a cigarette.
The technical design by Jay Ryan, Ryan Maeker, and Deb O is inventive and deftly integrated. In one of my favorite moments, a cast member peddles a trashed bike in the dark, slowly powering on the lights. There is such wonderful attention to detail; even a tiny wind-up music box had its moment. Kaz Phillips’s use of video is especially noteworthy, as when a man speaks of his experience as a child in the American Dust Bowl.
When the cast comes together to playfully muse on nirvana, I am left with, simply, a good feeling. The world may be ending over and over, but I am among friends.