As leftist manifesto, Herbert Siguenza’s Steal Heaven is kick-ass, skewering deserved reactionary targets from the ‘60s through today. Of course sociopolitical commentary is nothing new to Siguenza, one of the founding members of the Chicano troupe Culture Clash. But as a work of theater, Steal Heaven, directed at the San Diego Repertory Theatre by Siguenza and Todd Salovey, is rather contrived.
This starts with the setup: In 2017, when the White House is occupied by President Paul Ryan, a “laptop activist” named Trish (Summer Spiro) is accidentally shot to death during a solo protest. She comes to in “limbo,” where none other than Abbie Hoffman (Siguenza) explains that if she proves herself worthy, she will be returned to her earthly body to carry on the cause of justice. And so Abbie’s training of Trish begins, with the ‘60s leftist and the contemporary leftist trying to find common ground while mocking each other’s philosophical contradictions and instruments of demonstration.
Popping in and out in comic cameos is Mark Pinter, variously portraying Einstein (colorfully), George Burns with stogie as God (so-so), Richard Nixon in mask, Steve Jobs, Julia Childs (a howl) and others, including John Lennon (the Liverpool accent could use work, but he’s got the look down.)
Cogent points about the oppression of the right, the insanity of war and the desperate need for peace fly like angry birds, and the tension between Abbie and Trish turns problematic when it is revealed that as a solider in Iraq she killed five people.
John Lennon (Pinter) comes to the rescue, explaining (and I just can’t see Lennon, violently anti-war, doing this) that Trish did what she had to do and must forgive herself. But it brings Abbie and Trish together and ensures her eligibility to return to Earth.
Music from the ‘60s and ‘70s and evocative screen projections (Trish’s acid trip truly is one) add layers to the otherwise predictable revolution polemics. So does the appearance on screen of a “bullshit meter” that takes no prisoners, left or right, and merits some of the most raucous laughs.
Steal Heaven is a one-act affair but it could use some paring (Spiro’s rap number?) But its intentions are noble ones just the same.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat