Review: ‘Heaven Sent’ at Manhattan Repertory Theatre
Meghan Lynn Allen
BOTTOM LINE: A charming albeit fantastical story of aspiration, expectation and romance in the face of ALS.
Bobby should be pissed. He’s a single man in his thirties, gets daily visits from a cute young nurse, they both like each other, and there’s nothing he can do about it. He’s in a motorized wheelchair, suffers from advanced ALS, dons a trach and ventilator and can barely enunciate (most of his dialogue is via voice over). But he’s grateful, smart, romantic, shy, and hopeful. If only a dark and brooding, terribly fabulous, angel of death with winged kicks and a penchant for sappy love stories could save the day…or at least brighten it.
Heaven Sent is a part of Manhattan reps’ Fall One Act Play Competition. Situated at West 42nd St. & 8th in the heart of Times Square, this intimate space is a refreshing environment where the audience gets up close and personal with the actors. The play takes place in and around Bobby’s (Keith DiRienzo) apartment and is a window into the life of a love-struck young man with early onset ALS. When Jordan (Egbert Bernard) enters the scene as Bobby’s Angel of Death, we see Bobby’s one life’s wish granted: to go on a date with Trinity (Emma Jean Delia), his caregiver. Jordan allows Bobby to transcend his disease and enter into a parallel existence; one where his name is RJ (Stephen Elrod) and does not have ALS.
It’s no surprise that Heaven Sent has since advanced to the final rounds of competition. The cast and writing is strong. DiRienzo brings a charm and sweetness to the character of Bobby that is irresistible. His ALS affectations are spot-on and only serve to support the piece. Delia plays her part beautifully as Bobby’s smitten and sincere love interest. She is enchanting, completely available, and absolutely desirable. Bernard’s portrayal of Jordan is a breath of fresh air in what could be a heavy piece, speaking to the audience’s hearts – balancing both the comedic and the empathetic. Elrod, who plays Bobby’s alter ego RJ, brings a authenticity to his role that draws you into the unfolding love story. Rounding out the ensemble is Matthew Heller (Man at Bar) who rises to the task of playing Bobby’s foil: the vapid misogynist with cheesy pick-up lines who tries way too hard to be smooth, making Trinity feel nauseous and uncomfortable.
Playwrights Keeley and Lyons craft a sweet, romantic story with a dash of fantasy that is thought-provoking and inspiring. And who can resist a sprinkle of pop culture references from Ghost to It’s a Wonderful Life? Check out this one act play before it’s gone, and be part of its success! Audience members get to vote on their favorites each night. Running time for Heaven Sent is about 15 minutes.