Stage: Wednesday, September 10, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Oh, Thank Heaven

Pinky and B.B. enter the afterlife with their same idiosyncrasies intact.

By MATTHEW SMITH

September and October mark the best months to visit Hip Pocket Theatre. Instead of dripping sweat into the evening, you can enjoy a comfortable, almost cool night out once the sun sets. Not for the first time, I wished the theater’s season kicked off about now instead of in May.

Pinky (Dena Brinkley Phillips) and B.B. (Dick Harris) Ruebottom were minor characters from an earlier Hip Pocket production who proved so popular that they soon received their own play. Artistic director Johnny Simons went on to write and direct several more adventures for the couple over the years. In the last installment, Lake Suite, the couple died. Pinky and B.B. in Paradise finds the pair navigating the choppy path into heaven.

Yeah, it all sounds rather involved, but don’t worry. The new play is easy to follow, even if you haven’t caught the earlier shows. Pinky and B.B.’s prior history and actions warrant nary a mention here.

Things begin with the recently deceased couple trapped in a rather worldly limbo. Even in death, B.B. remains cranky as ever, and Pinky is still the uppity busybody she always was.

Soon enough, a pair of guardian angels, Tom (Gary Payne) and Gayle (Peggy Bott Kirby), show up to help the Ruebottoms earn their wings. Tom is a white-suited dandy who wears a huge peace sign, while Gayle is dressed like a colorful gypsy (or maybe she’s supposed to be Mimi from the Drew Carey Show).

Either way, the angels lead Pinky and B.B. to heaven’s first level, which leads to a kind of funny 7 Eleven joke. (Only kind of funny. Since 7 Elevens aren’t as plentiful as they once were, the joke feels a bit dated.)

After 7 Eleven, things get weird. Cherubs, archangels, and saints John and George (as in Beatles) pop in to assist the confused Ruebottoms.

John (Paul Logsdon) looks like Lennon. George (Matt Groff) doesn’t resemble Harrison, but nails the accent. Both end a chorus of “Jesus Loves Me” with patented headshake and rousing whoooo! Several Lennon asides about karma and God’s popularity should raise big laughs from Beatles fans — just Beatles fans.

B.B. goes on to defrock the Sacred Cow (Desiree Fultz), while Pinky frolics with Jesus (Adam Justin Dietrich) in the garden. Dietrich delivers a groovy, new age Jesus. If you are thinking this all sounds like a ’60s artifact a la Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar, you wouldn’t be wrong.

After doing the wacky in God’s chair (it’s ... never mind), Pinky and B.B. are given the choice of serving their punishment in hell or Dallas. Guess which one is considered worse.

Here the play drags, unable to match the first act’s non-stop pace and frivolity. Scenes of Pinky shopping at Neiman Marcus and of B.B. encountering a televangelist (Zelmer Phillips) in hell, which should be funny, just don’t pack much punch. The situation is full of comic possibilities, but nothing really happens. Still the hell scene supplies the night’s best musical number — in a play already ripe with fine music — thanks to Beetlebub (Adam Dapkus) and Lilith (Caitlin Glass).

Eventually, as you’ve probably already guessed, the hapless couple makes it to heaven. Paradise being a place, apparently, where you hang with Jesus, chomp snacks, down brews, watch tv, and dance a lot. As you’ve probably also already guessed, the importance of a comprehensive narrative or game plan doesn’t loom large in the scheme of things here.

The play is a right mess, jumping randomly here and there and liberally borrowing from biblical stories, nursery rhymes, and pop culture. The story is irreverent, but never mean-spirited — if there’s any message, it might be that we should be upbeat in these troubled times. Or maybe I just imagined that. To search further for religious or philosophical nuggets seems pointless. Best instead to just enjoy the spectacle and, if you want, play “name that reference” (“There goes It’s A Wonderful Life”).

Because it is uneven, Pinky and B.B. in Paradise comes off less successfully than Alice in Wonderland, Hip Pocket’s previous outing. Still, it’s quite entertaining, if somewhat silly, with lots of laughs and sublime music. The music, courtesy of the Lake Rats, consists of a largely upbeat mix of bluegrass and rock. Catchy originals work well in tandem with covers of such well-known numbers as “Imagine” and a beautiful take on Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” It’s a good bet that most audience members wouldn’t have minded had the band continued playing past the show’s finale.

Color Paradise a goofy jumble for goofy times. It’s not entirely successful, but it’s an interesting diversion. With cooler weather finally upon us, it’s also a pleasant night out and the perfect time to visit Hip Pocket. And you know that can’t be bad.



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