Friday, July 20, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: Hell: Paradise Found

Hell: Paradise Found
Written and Directed by Seth Panitch
The University of Alabama
at 59 E 69 Theaters, New York

What's it About?
Well, what if our thoughts about who goes to heaven and hell were all backwards? In Panitch's tongue-in-cheek mix up of an afterlife, lawyer Simon Ackerman (Matt Lewis) finds himself being sized up for a position in hell by The Interviewer (Panitch). They don't accept just anyone there, it seems. Simon is confused, at first, thinking that as a religious man, he would naturally want to go to heaven, until he discovers that's God (Dianne Teague), archangel Gabriel (Peyton Conley) and the residents there are, well, very boring. It seems that heaven is the destination for those who don't think for themselves, who follow blindly, and who stop questioning because they are supposed to have faith. One might just want to spend eternity where "everyone else" who has thought for themselves and done something unique with their lives go.

The folks in hell, who gather at a bar happy hour to hear the likes of Frank Sinatra (Conley) and Elvis Presley (Lawson Hangartner) croon "Let's Fall in Love," are much more interesting. They include Vlad the Impaler (Chip Persons), Shakespeare (Conley), Don Juan (Hangartner) and Lizzie Borden (Alexandra Ficken) as well as a Sophia-Loren-wannabe Mother Theresa (Stacy Panitch) who is upset that Princess Diana's funeral got more viewership.

To help Simon choose the right eternal destination, The Interviewer shows movie highlights of the fall of Adam and Eve (Hongartner and Ficken) and Lucifer (Persons) where God kind of seems selfish and befuddled, Gabriel's in love with his own importance and Satan seems the most reasonable of them all.

What are the highlights:
It's clever and funny and doesn't take itself very seriously. The performances are good, particularly for a university group trying their legs Off-Broadway.

What are the lowlights:
There doesn't seem to be a point after the initial smile brought on by "let's think about how eternity would look if we shook everything up." It's not apparent that the play is trying to make the point that we've got it all wrong, which is good, because it would fail given a lot of theological errors which it incorporates (Satan has a soul; Eve wasn't tempted to eat the apple; God withholds knowledge to manipulate; Luicfer tells God off; God grants someone's prayer have sex on prom night; it's Lucifer's idea that God allow free will -- just to name a few), but it's not clear what the point is exactly. The joke seems to stretch a little thin, though, even at 90 minutes with no intermission.

More information:
The play runs through July 22 at 59 East 59th Street, NYC. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8:15 pm; and Sunday at 3:15 pm. Tickets are $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call 212- 279-4200 or go to

Panitch is is Associate Professor of Acting and heads the MFA and Undergraduate Acting programs at the University of Alabama. Visit his page at

Christians might also like to know:
-- If you are looking for theologically sound, skip this one.
-- Sexual dialogue

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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