It is, however, a look at traditional Christian, and perhaps uniquely American, concepts of Heaven, Hell and the Devil. God and Jesus are alluded to in these shows, but the focus here is more decidedly on the human condition -- the choices we make and the pain we inflict on ourselves and others.
Wow. Sounds like deep and depressing stuff -- but it most definitely is not. The two acts are filled with humor and a bit of insight. Excellent casting and direction ensures an enjoyable evening with plenty of laughter, and perhaps just a touch of self-recognition.
The first act is a production of David Mamet's "Bobby Gould in Hell" that reveals more heart than may be first apparent. The play is an interrogation of Gould by two bureaucrats who process new arrivals. In Mamet's view, arriving in Hell, or the entry to such, is much like a government interview. The man in charge is indifferent and would rather be somewhere else, while his assistant would rather be in charge.
Gould, played with a smarmy, Quentin Tarantino-esque bravado by Phil Leveling, refuses to disavow his belief that he is essentially a good guy. He hasn't done much in his life to either distinguish or discredit himself, and Leveling does a nice job of straddling that fence. Gould comes across as more thoughtless than cruel, though he's definitely not squeaky clean. He is likeable, but with bad boy tendencies, a characterization that works well with the story.
The officious, suit-wearing assistant interrogator keeps to the details and note taking, and Mark Kelly is impeccably proper and officious, in a charmingly awkward and brown-nosing way. Kelly's assistant is the perfect foil for his boss. His mannerisms, eye-rolls, and perfunctory replies indicate he's stuck in the essay writing position, and resigned to remaining there for eternity.
His boss, the interrogator, is clearly not in the mood for the interview and would like to just get on with it already. Played with a put-upon sense of tedium by B. Weller, his desire to finish the interview and get back to his planned fishing excursion leads to a number of bitingly funny comments, dismissive replies, and the occasional display of otherworldly powers. Weller infuses his character with the slightly superior loathing of one comfortable in his position, doing the minimum necessary to check the boxes and keep his assistant's perceived ambition in line.
Unfortunately, for all three characters, the interview becomes muddled when Glenna, a sometimes love interest of Gould, is brought in for questioning. Rachel Tibbetts infuses Glenna, to great comic effect, with an over-entitled sense of victimization and underdeveloped feminist sensibilities. These characters combust on stage, but also plant a number of interesting seeds of thought that you may find yourself mulling over and over again long after the curtain.
The second act is the series of poems by Shel Silverstein, impressively presented by GP Hunsaker as the Storyteller. Hunsaker manages to create several distinct characters, and his obvious affection for both the story and the art of staged poetry easily draws the audience to him.
Hunsaker bounds across the stage, using various props to help bring the stories to life and effectively modulating his voice to emphasize key phrases. His stylized presentation is quite effective and, with the exception of a few line slips here and there, well delivered, capping off a compelling evening of quality theater.
Directors Christina Rios ("Bobby Gould in Hell") and Robert Ashton ("The Devil and Billy Markham") keep both shows moving nicely and manage to create a cohesive production using material from two very different authors. Their vision and ability to effectively use the actors and space keeps the production focused on the humor without losing sight of the thoughtful undertones.
R-S Theatrics production of "Oh Hell" run through December 15, 2013. Visit www.r-stheatrics.com for reservations or more information.