What do the atomic bomb, a girl in white attending her prom, and infomercials for seeds have in common? On the surface, it seems, nothing. Yet Heaven on Earth , written by Charles L. Mee and created by Witness Relocation and Ildi! Eldi, includes all of these elements in a consistent and a coherent way that is equal parts hilarious, thought-provoking, poignant, and joyful. This true work of art grapples with the complicated questions of what it means to be mortal in a world in which life could end, suddenly, at any moment. To summarize a specific plot in this play would be difficult and perhaps contrary to the play’s intentions. Knowing too much of what will be seen on stage also could spoil one wonderful aspect of this play: its element of surprise. Each scene, each detail included, is an unexpected treat.
This play does not have a traditional structure. Essentially, the it is a collage of scenes that all have something to do with the human condition and the concept of finding a “heaven on earth.” The characters contemplate a genius scientist’s notion of being uploaded into cyberspace as a form of immortality; a film is screened of a man reminiscing about his childhood during the Dust Bowl; a racecar driver discusses his recent experience in a major competition and the thrill of the race; etc. Are any of these aforementioned situations examples of heaven? Can there be joy in the worst possible circumstances? Would living forever be more wonderful than only living a short while but in that time frame having had someone’s love and having reciprocated those feelings?
The direction of this piece is consistent and the collage works beautifully to riff on the themes being addressed without feeling heavy-handed or too straightforward. The piece incorporates poetic text, compelling physical movement and dance, film, technical effects, even showtunes. What could come across as a hodgepodge of elements is, rather, expertly conducted by Dan Safer. Safer, as director and choreographer, is able to cleverly counterpose text on one notion with movement or stage business meant to evoke another. The stage pictures here are sumptuous feasts for the eyes and the text is unconditionally brilliant, whether it is evoking bizarre and charming humor or presenting hard-hitting and emotional realities of what it means to be human.
Mee is a true artist in his playwriting and this work is no exception. The words, full of subtle meanings, can resonate in a viewer’s head long after the play has ended. Each line of text raises important questions without providing direct, succinct answers. The actors all have great skill in how to turn a phrase, pacing their speeches with perfect timing. In addition, the movement work in this production is exquisite. All of the performers are superb in their various roles, showing their range of performance abilities. Also worth singling out is the lighting and set design by Jay Ryan. The lighting is perfectly linked to the tone of the atmosphere in each scene and the set, in its clever simplicity, is utilized ideally for a play of this nature.
Heaven on Earth is a poetic reminder of the transience of human life. Despite numerous possibilities of heavens, there is no way for us to know that our advanced human civilization will even be remembered, much less that our insignificant individual lives will have made any impact. And yet, this play is a celebration of precisely that seemingly insignificant blessing known as life. Do not wait for a heaven; do not even spend your finite days searching for one. Life itself is a heaven and this play is one of life’s pleasures, not to be missed