ORLANDO — If you happened to be a believer in the End of Time concept that got passed around last week, with predictions that the world was going to end on Saturday, May 21 … and you just happened to be taking in a show at the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival, you might have come to the conclusion that if this sinful, wicked world didn’t get the punishment it deserved, it truly should have after “Heaven Help Us!”
Jeff Jones’ play, a rollicking bad taste comedy that gleefully thumbs its nose at everything and anything remotely sacred, is kind of like the anecdote to those fire-and-brimstone church productions about how immoral behavior takes you straight to Hell — with the final sage advice to stay clean at all times. “Heaven Help Us! The Final Chapter,” is, on the other hand, a kind of something-for-everyone religious play. If you’re a believer, you can attend and shake your head for 45 minutes in the knowledge that yes, secular society is truly abominable.
And if you’re not religious, you can marvel at the sheer delight that Jones takes in massacring anything that remotely resembles a sacred cow. If religion can dish it out with fiery condemnations of atheists, gays, feminists, and other select targets, Jones seems to be saying, then they can afford to get some jabs back, too.
And boy does he do some sharp jabbing.
In a true vaudevillian style of allowing no holy image to avoid the crudest toilet humor possible, Jones plays Satan, a smart mouth whose antics are interupted by a call from God — in this case, his mom — with an invitation to come back up to Heaven, if only for a day, to help celebrate Jesus’ birthday. At first cranky at the thought, Satan then decides this might afford him an opportunity for some mischief, so up he goes.
And Heaven …. well, let’s see: God is a Jewish mama prone to Oy Vey!-like sighs of grief, Moses gets annoyed and curses a lot when nobody helps him prepare for the birthday party, Jesus is a grump and doesn’t want cake, Adam is in the closet and the entertainer of choice, Liberace, no longer does clean, G-rated monologes.
Then we have Mother Nature, who appears to have the most high energy libido of anyone in the room, as well as a strong penchant for booze, and plenty of it. So if you were hoping for something that the kids at your local church group might put on to demonstrate what they learned in Bible study class, uh …. next play.
Over the years, the Fringe Festival has attracted its share of original productions geared to the entire family, from dance to music to storytelling. But overall, if you’re a Fringe veteran, you know a good share of the productions don’t resemble “The Sound of Music.” And frankly, if that’s what you’re looking for, Jones and his director, Laurel Clark, do their darndest to keep the proceedings awfully peppy.
The cast helps, if for no other reason than Jones roped in some of Orlando’s funniest performers.
Elizabeth T. Murff is her usual exquistely hilarious self as God, with enough Jewish angst and hand wringing to make Philip Roth blush. It’s a coin flip whether Kevin Bee is more hysterical as a Moses who gets so fed up with party planning that he starts making your average truck driver sound like a monk, or as Liberace, liberated in Heaven to be who he really wants to be — and to flirt outrageously with any guy in possession of a pulse.
And can any show go wrong when you stick the glorious Doug Ba’ser into a dress and have him do knocker jokes, drunk gags, and other naughty forms of toilet humor? That’s like saying will the party go south if you offer martini’s rather than lemonade.
“Heaven Help Us!” has a great space to perform in at Fringe, the Silver Venue, the main theater at the Orlando Repertory in Loch Haven Park, which is huge and can accommodate large crowds. It’s the kind of show that certainly benefits from raucus laughter at full volume, thanks in no small part to comedian Jones’ very funny efforts to bring the audience into the piece as often as possible.
No, this is not a show for traditionalists who prefer the likes of “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston or maybe “Ben-Hur” on television around Easter.
But I’ll say this, if you catch this show, you’ll know you’re at Fringe, baby. There’s no doubts there.
“Heaven Help Us!” can be seen tonight at 9 p.m., Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., Thursday at 8:30 p.m. and Friday at 6 p.m.
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