Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Heaven – What Does It Mean To You?

Reviewed by Judd Hollander 

When it comes to Eugene O’Brien’s drama Heaven, the story begins and ends with the play’s final line. Presented by Fishamble, this intriguing work about past choices and second chances can be seen through January 29th at 59E59Theaters.

Mal (Andrew Bennett) and Mairead (Janet Moran) are a married couple in their early 50s. Together for close to 30 years they have returned to their mutual hometown, located in the midlands of Ireland, for the wedding of Mairead’s sister. The town itself is little more than a couple of shops and a number of empty buildings. Basically, it's one of those places progress has passed by. Though Mairead actually describes the town in somewhat more colorful terms. Still, the place holds important memories for both her and her husband. Recollections each of them has been unwilling to face, or perhaps even acknowledge, until now.

                         Andrew Bennett in "Heaven" at 59E59 Theaters.  Photo Credit: Ste Murray 

Mairead and Mai’s union can best be described as “safe”. While they certainly love and depend on one other for stability, whether they are actually still in love is another story. In addition, any real passion between them has since long vanished. Part of it due to Mal’s heart surgery of several years previous; and part because of his attempts to deny decades of his own desires when it comes to his own sexual preference. As a result, Mairead, a passionate woman with no outlet for her own needs, finds herself remembering her youthful encounters with Breffni, a long ago lover who still lives in the town. A subsequent meeting between the two quickly makes clear these old feelings still exist, with only the smallest push needed to ignite the flames once more. As the various wedding events begin, images of something old and possibilities of something new emerge for both Mal and Mairead. Ones which may be too tempting to resist.

With a title that means different things to the different people involved, Heaven asks what happens when someone starts to feel suffocated by what their life has become? Hand in hand with this is the idea of how any attempt to break free of that yoke can come with a high price. Something both Mal and Mairead learn on their very personal journeys of discovery.

                       Janet Moran in "Heaven" at 59E59 Theaters.  Photo Credit: Ste Murray

O’Brien's text conjures up a detailed picture of time, place and personal need. Images and emotions all brought brilliantly to life by Bennett and Moran. The two do an excellent job not only in making their own characters come across as fully formed, but the also the different characters they interact with during the play.

The work itself is basically a series of extended monologues. Mal and Mairead never verbally interact with one another, although they may be at the same place at the same time. Each of them in turn relating events from their own perspective. Jim Culleton’s direction is also a key element. His efforts help keep the story tightly focused and the tension continually rising, as the audience is drawn into this very absorbing tale.

Moran does a fine job as Mairead, a neglected wife who yearns for the passion that has been missing from her existence for far too long. She seeing in Breffni a chance to enjoy the life she believes she should have had and now, may finally attain. Yet even as she contemplates making the change, reality intrudes upon the rosy picture she has painted for herself. As an unexpected chance to make a different type of connection threatens to change everything.

Andrew Bennett and Janet Moran in "Heaven" at 59E59 Theaters.  Photo Credit: Ste Murray

Bennett has the more restricted role here as the perennially repressed Mal. He feeling trapped not only from what he has denied for so many years, including to himself, but also from a medical condition which has forced him to insulate himself even more from things that may give him pleasure. Yet it’s his slow awakening to his own passions – with a little help from various stimulants -  that is quite powerful to behold. Mal finding himself willing for forsake everything he has in order to embrace who he has the chance to finally become. Though the path which is now determined to take comes with multiple risks. Including the possibility of reaching a point of no return.

Zia Bergin-Holly’s set on the small theatre stage nicely matches the intimacy of the piece, while Saileóg O’Halloran’s costumes and lighting by Sinéad McKenna all work well within the atmosphere of the story.

An intimate tale about desperately wanting to start your life anew, Heaven shows how doing so requires far more than simply taking the first step. Especially when there's a chance that what one envisions may not turn out as planned.

Featuring: Andrew Bennett (Mal), Janet Moran (Mairead)


By Eugene O’Brien

Set Design: Zia Bergin-Holly

Costume Design: Saileóg O’Halloran

Lighting Design: Sinéad McKenna

Music & Sound Design: Carl Kennedy

Stage Manager: Heather Klein

Dramaturg: Gavin Kostick

Directed by Jim Culleton


Presented by Fishamble: The New Play Company


59 East 59th Street


Running Time: 90 Minutes, with no intermission

Closes: January 29, 2023