Sour Hereafter

Life after death looks like hell in two surreal new comedies at Undermain and Kitchen Dog Theater

Catholic Jimmy, swigging nervously from a jeroboam of champagne, engages Judy in a noisy confrontation about their different views of religion, abortion and marital fidelity. They've fled a party where Jimmy had a scuffle with Judy's lover. "My wife's rabbi beat me up. Cocksucker hates Catholics," barks Jimmy. "He stood over me awhile, grinning like the lunatic Zionist that he is."

Listening to Jimmy rant about Judaism and Judy-ism in the middle of needle park are a drug dealer named Derek (Michael Turner) and his crackhead girlfriend Sissy (Wrenn Schmidt). Derek's in dutch with Karl over a missing gun. When Sissy is conscious, she's juggling, riding a unicyle or clomping around on metal stilts, learning to be a "busker." Karl shoots Sissy up with drugs and plugs two bullets into Derek.

By the end, everyone's dead but the rabbi and Sissy. Dead but not gone. Karl, Derek, Jimmy and Judy reappear to become the heavenly hosts of their own goofy talent show. Judy lives out her fantasies of being an action hero and a surgeon. She turns into a movie musical star in a Fred-and-Ginger musical number with Derek that comes out of nowhere and plays like a direct lift from the work of the brilliant Singing Detectivewriter Dennis Potter. Jimmy takes the spotlight with a bad impression of Lenny Bruce, complete with mike, wooden stool and water glass.

Let's talk about squid: Rhonda Boutte, John Forkner and Suzanne Thomas inhabit an inky mess known as A Man's Best Friend.
Let's talk about squid: Rhonda Boutte, John Forkner and Suzanne Thomas inhabit an inky mess known as A Man's Best Friend.

Details

A Man's Best Friend continues at Undermain Theatre through March 15. Call 214-747-5515.

Heaven continues at Kitchen Dog Theater at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary through March 23. Call 214-953-1055.

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With its noisy harangues about religion, bigotry and oral sex, Heaven, directed at Kitchen Dog by Tina Parker, weighs heavy under its own air of cynical self-righteousness. Playwright Walker works too hard at all of it, pounding away at his themes like an electric nail gun on Styrofoam.

Throughout this play's long two acts, Walker trips over his writerly influences. He infuses Heaven with F-bombs and sudden violence, but instead of David Mamet, he only delivers warmed-over Miami Vice. Samuell Beckett placed characters in wheelchairs and garbage cans in his exploration of the afterlife in Endgame. In Heaven, Walker puts Jimmy in a wheelchair, but with little purpose or effect. Jimmy simply stands up and kicks the chair away. Karl's sudden emergence from the dumpster in Act 2 brings to mind Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch more than any symbol of existential angst.

The actors toil feverishly, too, but in the wrong directions. Parrish locks onto an expression as sour as an old pan of cabbage and keeps it on all night. Gormley's Karl should be a tightly wound monster, but the actor manages only Barney Fife with extra ammo. Carlos overacts as Jimmy and often seems unfocused, as if he didn't quite have a bead on the character. Turner is fine as Derek, but his frantic energy makes him rush his words. Schmidt is light as air as the ethereal Sissy. And brava to her for mastering the juggling.

The play, clouded in bitterness and negativity, comes to a go-to-hell conclusion. In his stand-up finale (which grinds on for an eternity), Jimmy sums up Heaven's infernal philosophy: "Everybody hates everybody. Let's just go with that and see where that takes us."

And don't forget to have a nice day.

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