By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Sarah Bennett
By LP Hastings
By Jena Ardell
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
By Joel Beers
Cancel my subscription to this resurrection. If the afterlife is anything like the heaven portrayed in John Miner's rock opera Heaven's Café,I'll stay worm food. It's a drab place, filled with uninteresting characters, dull language and unfocused motivations.
The music, however, kicks much ass.
And that nearly sums up this show—an ambitious, flawed production courtesy of the Insurgo Theater Movement. It's ambitious because rock opera is, well, rock opera. You need people who can sing, dance and act, and who don't mind looking like high school theater geeks. And that's what this cast has in abundance: people willing to give it up entirely in service of a rock opera. That's ambitious. Then again, so was the Final Solution.
Miner, whose band Art Rock Circus supplies the music, is the best and worst of this production. The guy is a smoking composer and his psychedelic progressive guitar stylings are wickedly good. This is definitely music to blow a few trillion brain cells to.
But keep Miner away from word processors. From the lyrics (I swear I heard someone singing about running up a tab on lobster and crab) to the awkwardly disjointed story (which has more holes in it than a Jenna Jameson video compilation), the words hurt my ears.
The story, if you want to call it that, follows the search, if you can call it that, of a guy named Lark (Justin Pyne, in a performance that runs the emotional gamut from A to B). Apparently, Lark was a hedonist—smoked, ate, drank, fucked and basically did all those things that make living fun. Somehow, he dies—though how is anybody's guess. (Could it be the fact he ate steak and eggs every morning and ran up a tab on lobster and crab?) Lark winds up in a place called Heaven's Café, where a gallery of characters (obvious aspects of his personality) waits to either bitch him out or help him out. There's a guy named Classical Man (don't ask) whose purpose in this play is, based on Ed Bangasser's performance, pretty simple: he's a dick. (Did I really just type the word "Bangasser"?) There's also the Guardian Angel (the sweet-voiced Darcy Hogan) who serves as his Jiminy Cricket. And there's someone named Kral (Russ Marchand), a clownish roller-skating dude who, I'm guessing, embodies Lark's happy-go-lucky nature. Over all these is The Dark One (Jason Lythgoe) who doesn't do much except languidly stare down upon the proceedings like a gassy Paul Stanley.
There's some kind of Bunyanese spiritual pilgrimage unfolding here—although, in Miner's cosmogony, the spiritual journey apparently begins only after one dies. But what Lark is looking for, what he's experiencing and why we should give a rat's ass is never made clear.
Something apparently does happen and that prompts the Dark Lord to slink down from his perch to do . . . something? The characters pony up to give the Dark Lord trinkets, he makes out with the angel and then returns, slinking, to his perch, looking quite forlorn. Afterward, Robin (Heather Shough) another aspect of Lark's character—his sweet, beatific side—comes back and says, sure, no one knows what it's all about, but that's okay, and whether she was talking about life as we know it or this play is anybody's guess.
Ultimately, it seems that Miner's loftiest point is that if you give up smoking, drinking and sex, and surrender your anger, you'll get in touch with your inner hippie chick. Director John Beane does nothing to make that story clear or compelling. The movement lacks focus (a lot of that has to do with Marchand's incessant clowning; either jack up the entire production to his camp level or muzzle him), the production values are non-existent (apparently all scenic designers worth a damn get a one-way ticket straight to hell), and he does nothing visually to help move the story, if you can call it that.
Though deeply flawed, this isn't the type of show that engenders deep enmity. Like I said, the music is awesome, the cast enthusiastic and talented. And it's also only 70 minutes long, so at least the pointlessness isn't belabored. And, I suppose one can even thank Miner for proving, once again, that there is only one Golden Rule when it comes to the theater, something Heaven's Café convincingly shows: if you don't have a script, you don't have a prayer.
Heaven's Café, Insurgo Theater Movement, 4883 E. La Palma, Ste., 506, Anaheim Hills, (714) 517-7798. Fri.-Sat., 8 P.M.; Sun., 7 P.M. $15-$17.