Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews




picture - Way to HeavenTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published May 15, 2009


Way to Heaven

now playing Off Broadway at Teatro Circulo

through May 24


The world's many religions may each claim a different way to get to heaven – if they incorporate the concept of heaven at all – but Juan Mayorga's Way to Heaven definitely ranks up there as one of the most sobering and thought-provoking visions.  In it, Mayorga uses the true story of the Theresienstadt concentration camp – where the Nazis tried to cover up the atrocities by building and presenting a fake village – as a springboard to discussing the Holocaust in an unconventional but compelling way.  The depictions here may not be gruesome, but they will affect you psychologically nevertheless.  Yet, while you may be prepared for some of the events, there are others that are unpleasantly unpredictable.


Way to Heaven begins with a simple bed of leaves that communicates the scarcity of the times, but does nothing to appeal to our sense of aesthetics.  We expect that there won't be any bells and whistles for the visuals, but unfortunately, the dullness of the opening scene is disappointing. As the Red Cross Representative recalling his experiences of the false camp years after it disbanded, Shawn Parr delivers a monologue that goes on far too long, with nothing but his bare feet treading on the crisp leaves to slice through the boredom.  Parr comes alive at the end with anguish over not seeing anything out of place, but it's not worth the wait.  Luckily, the show revs up in scene two with a confounding (but entertaining) time warp.


picture - Way to HeavenWhile you're trying to piece together what is happening, Patrick Johnson's authentic costumes and Matthew Earnest's bold direction engages you in a new but better world experientially and chronologically.  Lines and actions will be repeated several times before you realize that the show has taken a leap backward in time to demonstrate the events that transpired before the first scene.  Utilizing the “play within a play” format, the show becomes a series of rehearsals of a long-running show developed by the Commandant (Francisco Reyes) and Gershom Gottfried (Mark Farr) in which Jewish prisoners play the parts of well-adjusted, happy individuals that the Red Cross Representative runs into during his inspection of the town.  Though the scene changes are cloddish and Derek Wright's lighting changes are sometimes as sharp as a needle, you'll want to give these elements the benefit of the doubt by chalking it up to a lack of adequate theatrical resources at a concentration camp.  Ahem.


Although the scenes between the Commandant and Gottfried, chosen to play the Mayor and subsequently lead everyone into the lie, are chilling, they are written exceptionally well and performed well to boot.  Reyes' Commandant is a goofy Nazi that makes you smile during his monologues one minute, and turns into a believable, dishonest politician the next.  He pressures Gottfried to participate with a light hand by explaining the merits of their project in one breath while punctuating his speeches with lines like “as long as we are here, we are not on that train.  It's an experiment, see” that persuade him to keep up the charade in the next breath.  And Farr's Gottfried is a wonderfully sympathetic character that is heroic in his own right, saving as many people for the “play” as he can to prevent them from going to the Infirmary, the place where they would meet their death and their ultimate way to heaven. 


Even with a sluggish start, Way to Heaven is a powerful and clever look at the horrors of the Holocaust.  This understated, indirect portrayal of the Holocaust employs the powers of suggestion rather than graphic stories to pull you in, but the effects are just as strong.  This may not be a way to heaven that you're comfortable or familiar with, but the lessons learned here about living out of fear and making a stand are worth stepping out of your comfort zone.


cindypierre @


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