Congratulations to the entire team at Congo Square Theatre Company for a smash opening for Walter Mosley’s The Fall of Heaven.
This experience has been unbelievable… I’m honored to be with you in the trenches, fighting a good fight for stellar Black theater.
Congo Square Soars with Mosley’s “The Fall of Heaven”
When: Through March 24
Where: Congo Square Theatre, 4520 N. Beacon
Info: (773) 296-1108; www.congosquaretheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours with one intermission
An angel dukes it out with the devil right here on Earth. And while that is unquestionably a very old story — at least as old as the Bible — rarely has it been retold quite as engagingly as in “Fall of Heaven,” Walter Mosley’s rip-roaring stage adaptation of “The Tempest Tales,” his own “novel in stories,” now in an altogether irresistible production by Congo Square Theatre.
Mosley (widely known as the creator of that hard-boiled detective, Easy Rawlins), possesses a hiply modern ear, a sharply focused, streetwise eye, tremendous wit, and a mischievous mix of unmitigated comic glee and deep ruefulness about the human condition. And that is just enough to reawaken belief in even the most cynical of us mortal creatures.
He also knows how to make temptation tempting, how to make sin justifiable, and how to make redemption worth fighting for. Daniel Bryant’s expert direction of an electrifying cast of five does the rest, and also keeps the hellfires burning even as heaven sends out its own particular glow.
At the center of Mosley’s story is Tempest (a.k.a. Roger Jones), a black man from Harlem who is wrongly gunned down with 17 bullets fired by a policeman. Though Tempest has an admittedly checkered past (forever juggling a wife, a girlfriend and various survival scams), he also has some noble deeds to his credit. And he has the audacity to refuse to march quietly into hell like other “sinners” when he arrives at the pearly gates.
Granted a temporary reprieve, Tempest heads back to Earth where he is “counseled” by Joshua (a perfectly understated Boise Holmes), the “angel” with no real-life experience of sex, family, responsibility or the plight of an African-American man. His only irritation comes from an office job and a sassy assistant (the very funny Krenee A. Tolson).
And then he is approached by Branwyn (the easily seductive Jessica Dean Turner), the woman whose life Tempest once saved. Branwyn deftly initiates Joshua into manhood — as husband, dad and wage slave, and he very soon has a more realistic view of Tempest’s challenges. Meanwhile, Bob (Jordan Brown as the slick, white Beelzebub of the story) tries to win Tempest back to the dark side of the “next” world.
Irons, a lean, fleet, quick-witted, super-charged actor is terrific, making the countless shifting emotions of his character come to life in a flash. Like Tempest, he is stormy, complex, forever pursued and in pursuit — tragicomic in the full sense of that word. A delicious performance.
Designer Andrei Onegin’s minimalist but effective multilevel set (neatly lit by Richard Norwood, and with evocative projections by Liviu Pasare), puts the focus on the play’s outstanding actors and lets Mosley’s bristling language dominate. The author (whose only misstep is a brief but clumsy geopolitical rant), was in the audience on opening night. He was too modest to take a bow, but along with the Congo Square team he unquestionably deserved one.