note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Beverly Creasey
Christopher Durang writes wicked satire, more often than not, skewering the Catholic church but in the Lyric Stage Company’s smart MISS WITHERSPOON, (through April 21st) he takes on a whole host of religions. MISS WITHERSPOON is set in purgatory, where she lands after a suicide motivated by a lack of world peace, among other disquieting, unalterable things.
Miss Witherspoon is assigned an annoyingly cheerful spiritual guide to aid in her reincarnation but there’s the rub. She doesn’t want to go back. Durang mines wonderful comedy from her resistance to change---but half the way through, he abandons the sardonic in favor of reclamation, as if this were Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. There are evidently rules governing the afterlife and Miss W. must go back and learn that life is worth living. So back she goes but all of a sudden, Durang seems to have thrown in with Hilary Clinton to show us “it takes a village” to raise a child. Miss Witherspoon is now that teenager and we’re supposed to root for her success. (Truth be told, I liked her better as a complaining, suicidal fussbudget.)
Paula Plum is sensational as the sharp-tongued, single minded Miss Witherspoon and director Scott Edmiston gets hilarious performances from Larry Coen (as Henny Penny, a slimy drug pusher and a guru), from Marianna Bassham (as the quintessential mother from hell), from Mala Bhattacharya (as the perky girl guide to the universe) and from Jacqui Parker (as Jesus Christ!). Janie E. Howland gets chuckles from the get-go for the dozens of limbo babies suspended in mid-air over the audience, and even more laughs when Miss Witherspoon herself becomes miniaturized in the ether.
Artistic director Spiro Veloudos is always reminding us that the actors, directors and technical staff at the Lyric are first class LOCAL talent. Kudos to Lyric for opening this show with the pop hit “Spirit in the Sky,” penned by the late, great (local boy) Norman Greenbaum.