Tuesday, January 21, 2020

“Going To a Place Where You Already Are” Stirs Lively Debate at OnStage Playhouse

In my growing up years, heaven was a place other people’s religions believed in. The one thing I knew for certain was Jews did not believe in heaven or hell. My friends and I talked that one to death - pardon the pun- when we got into philosophical discussions. 

Well, so much for that piece of misinformation!

Later on and more studying proved that that even among the most learned of Jewish scholars there are as many theories about the afterlife as there are religious teachings and between the various movements. They quote from Biblical and other sources making a case for their very own followers.

Why all the talk now about heaven and the afterlife? Glad you asked. 

OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista is presenting Bekah Brunstetter’s (“The Cake” at the La Jolla Playhouse) local premiere of “Going To A Place Where You Already Are”; a light comedy filled with levity, wisdom and heartfelt insight into the imaginations of those who are likely to question the concept of heaven and/or hell, including those who are slowly inching up in years and attending more funerals than weddings.
Richard Rivera and Jody Catlin
Joe and Roberta are there. They have been married twenty- nine years. They are at that stage in their lives when we find them in church attending a friend’s funeral. They are very attentive but also making fun of the eulogy and giggling like misbehaved children mocking and being silly.

During the banter we learn that Joe is a committed atheist and Roberta is leaning in the direction of yes, there could be a heaven. She’s what one might refer to as a recovering atheist.

Roberta also needs some medical attention. Her back hurts and she’s feeling a bit uncomfortable so much so Joe schedules an appointment to check whatever is that’s bothering her, out. They discover more tests are needed to firm up an early diagnosis where they found clusters of tumors. They schedule her for an MRI. Joe is supportive, himself a doctor. Roberta is very concerned as she has claustrophobia. Joe reminds her that there is an emergency button that can stop the machine any time.

Young Ellie, Joe’s granddaughter doesn’t have time for thoughts of the afterlife. She’s in her thirties and very busy with her own life. When we meet her she’s having sex with Jonas, a young paraplegic she just met. The two hit it off and while it’s a rocky relationship in the beginning they have their own ‘stuff’ to deal with.
Miguel Gongora, Jr. and Heather Warren
A phone call from Roberta interrupts their after sex cuddling and allows us a connection between the two couples with Roberta telling Ellie of her experience having the MRI and the after affects of the findings. Could Ellie, as well, believe in heaven?

When Roberta first wakes from her MRI, she is in a place she can’t identify. A man in white is shadowing her, and while it is never spoken, we imagine she is in heaven. She’s smiling, upbeat and walking on air, so to speak.

She indulges in an ice cream cone and is deliriously happy. Her personal Angel is at her beckon call even showing up at Ellie’s when she insists on smoking after she promised her grandmother she had stopped.  

What a pleasant time I had watching my neighbor Jody Catlin in the part of Roberta. As she is in real life when we meet up on our morning walks and talks, her big and bubbly personality flows over to her person as Roberta in director Hannah Logan’s wonderfully wistful and reflective ‘Place’.

Her smile is contagious and it is an absolute delight to see her practicing her craft as the understanding adult in the room ready to take her place where, apparently, she believes she once was.  
Jody Catlin and Patrick Mayuyu 
Patrick Mayuyu is another masterful turn for Logan, who skillfully and seamlessly moves the action back and forth in this ninety-minute time traveling, if you will, tug at your heartstrings play.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else as the Angel, an Angel who sings, dances (How about Chicago”?) and watches out for Ellie. There’s a big surprise bundled up for Roberta and the Angel midway through that will keep you smiling through tears. No spoilers.

Richard Rivera, last seen by yours truly in Coronado Playhouse’s “King Charles III, is a perfect match as Roberta’s husband, supporter companion and agnostic who can’t fathom anyone believing in an afterlife. They make a truly believable and compassionate couple facing the prospect of one of living out the rest of this or her life without the other. 
Jody Catlin with Patrick Mayuyu
Miguel Góngora, Jr. makes a case for inclusiveness and truth as the handicapped boyfriend who will have no one sympathize or help him as he manages the role with dignity. Heather Warren’s Ellie comes on strong after she visits Roberta and decides to turn her life around.
Richard Rivera, Jody Catlin and Patrick Mayuyu
Ron Logan’s set has easily defined spaces: a church pew, a hospital room/bed, heaven with giant ice cream Sundays, Ellie’s apartment and Roberta and Joe’s living room. Quinn Schuster’s lighting of heaven is heavenly, Matt Warburton’s sound and Natalia Araiza’s casual costumes reflect the characters especially the Angel all in shades of white and Jody’s with always flowing costumes following after her.

And now for the million-dollar question to myself: If I was already at the place I had already been, why am I in no hurry to return?
Talk among yourselves. 

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb.16th
Organization: OnStage Playhouse
Phone: 619-422-7787
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 291 Third Ave, Chula Vista, CA
Ticket Prices: $25.00
Web: onstageplayhouse.org
Photo Credit: Daren Scott

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