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In the Towne Players of Garner's current production of playwright Harry Segall's sublime comic fantasy Heaven Can Wait, handsome prizefighter Joe Pendleton (Rob Smith) arrives at the Pearly Gates prematurely, escorted by a bumbling angel (Rusty Sutton), declares director Beth Honeycutt. She says Pendleton adamantly refuses to believe that he is dead, and he insists that the angel in charge, Mr. Jordan (Holmes Morrison), look up his "records," which confirm that Pendleton was not due in Heaven for another 60 years!
Mr. Jordan agrees to return Joe Pendleton to earth, but there is a major hitch. The boxer's grieving manager, Max Levene (Greg Flowers), has already cremated Joe's body! So, a suitable substitute body must be found.
"That's how," Honeycutt says, "Joe finds himself temporarily in the body of villainous millionaire Jonathan Farnsworth, whose hard drinking wife (Missy Dapper) and personal secretary (John Kreilkamp) are trying to kill him. Meanwhile, Joe finds himself falling in love with one of the millionaire's victims (Morgan Abner)."
When Farnsworth inexplicably turns over a new leaf, starts training to box, gives away his money, and tries to make amends to those he has harmed, his family and friends are incredulous. Add to the mix Joe's bewildered former fight manager, a confused detective (Kyle Montgomery), and a daunting housekeeper (Frances Stanley) and you have a potent recipe for comedy.
"The script does have some flaws," Beth Honeycutt admits, "so we are having to work overtime to keep the show flowing smoothly.
"We've also had the challenge of creating Heaven, a millionaire's living room, and a locker room in a very small space," say Honeycutt, who helped her husband, Scott, and Jeff Nugent create the scenery that can transform the cramped stage of The Garner Historic Auditorium into the locales in question. Scott Honeycutt also serves as lighting and sound designer for the show.
Beth Honeycutt adds, "I also have a large number of new actors in this show, which is wonderful, but sort of like a 'honeymoon' as we all get used to each other! (Luckily, I see no divorce in sight.)"
Honeycutt recalls that she first saw the motion-picture version of Heaven Can Wait, co-directed by Warren Beatty and Buck Henry and starring Beatty, James Mason, and Julie Christie, when it came out in 1978. "I read the script about a year ago" Honeycutt adds.
"I like the concept of this show," she says. "The whole fantasy of stepping into someone else's shoes, righting another's wrongs, and the infallible making mistakes is interesting. I wanted to direct this show, oddly enough, because, while I loved the concept, I did not love the original [Harry Segall] script, which is not nearly as fun as the [Elaine May-Warren Beatty-Robert Towne] script for the movie. I wanted the challenge."
The Towne Players of Garner present Heaven Can Wait Friday-Saturday, Feb. 14-15, at 8 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 20-22, at 8 p.m. in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 West Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors). 919/779-6144. http://www.towneplayers.org/.