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HEAVEN CAN WAIT

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It's hard to say which was more classic: the script by Harry Segall, which has been spun into three different film versions, or the moment at the end of Act Two when the house lights came up before the actors could clear, forcing the actor playing the corpse to kind of slither out in the hopes of not breaking the illusion. It's a charmingly inept production, packed with such winning moments of sincerity, although remaining unencumbered by anything like pace or vision. It is also possessed of the sine qua non of misguided theatre, the self-directed lead actor. Although Rico Simonini shares directing credit with Joanna Sanchez, it becomes clear early on that this is about Simonini's vision of, well, Simonini. This grudging willingness to share focus is overcome by the casting of a number of fine character actors in the smaller roles, as well as a gem of an ingénue.

Setting aside that in each of his three incarnations Simonini is exactly the same, he's not a bad place to start, as the "spaghetti and stickball" childhood he references in his bio is obvious in every line reading. But as the boxing manager, Max, Johnny "Roastbeef" Williams ramps up the goombah factor by 10 and delivers masterful character work. Bud Sabatino as a detective and Kenn Woodard as a rich man's amanuensis are equally adept, if decidedly more low-key, in their performances. Joyce W. Bergloff, playing a housekeeper who gives every appearance of having stepped in from an Agatha Christie show, is a curious delight, although her enthusiasm is betrayed by her tendency to signal her impending arrival by having her hands on the audience side of the curtain well in advance of her cue. The real find, though, is Traci Crouch, playing the part of a tender creature trying to make her way in a perilous world. She radiates goodness and wholesomeness without ever once curdling and wears a quite fetching costume (Sherry Coon) in the bargain. As heaven's doorman, Mr. Jordan, Amos L. Cowson is silky elegance, although a bit of briskness might have been nice at the top of the show, which is the first of many draggy moments.

"Heaven Can Wait," presented by COLSAC in association with and at the Pilot Light Theatre, 6902 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Wed.-Thu. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. (Also Fri. 8 p.m., Apr. 15, 22 & 29; Sat. 8 p.m. Apr. 16, 23 & 30; Sun. 3 p.m. Apr. 17, 24 & May 1.) Mar. 23-May 1. $15-20. (323) 960-4418.

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