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'Heaven Can Wait' at LTA

Colin Davies (Doctor), Brandon DeGroat (Joe Pendleton), Geoffrey Baskir (Passenger), Michael Gerwin (Williams), Geoffrey Brand (Lefty), and John Shackelford (Max Levene)

Colin Davies (Doctor), Brandon DeGroat (Joe Pendleton), Geoffrey Baskir (Passenger), Michael Gerwin (Williams), Geoffrey Brand (Lefty), and John Shackelford (Max Levene)

Joe Pendleton is in for the fight of his life — literally. A professional boxer and pilot, his soul is mistakenly “collected” from his body some 60 years too soon after a plane flight gone awry in the comedy “Heaven Can Wait,” now playing at The Little Theatre of Alexandria.

In playwright Harry Segall's 1938 classic — the basis for the Academy Award-winning “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” in 1941 and the more recent “Down to Earth” with Chris Rock in 2001 — 23-year-old Joe enlists the help of chief angel Mr. Jordan to find a suitable host body to inhabit for his remaining days on earth.

The hilarious hijinks begin when Joe ends up as Jonathan Farnsworth, a wealthy financier who has just been murdered by his wife and personal secretary. Even as the devious duo are hell-bent on finishing him off, Joe decides to stick around as Farnsworth long enough to help Bette Logan, a young woman whose father the financier has railroaded into jail.

As Joe, Brandon DeGroat effortlessly maintains the indefatigable pace of a supercharged athlete fond of describing his physical condition as "in the pink." Cal Whitehurst, meanwhile, is an oasis of calm as the efficient and sophisticated Mr. Jordan and the perfect foil for the spunky Joe.

“There is nothing like a performance here at LTA,” DeGroat said following the Feb. 25 opening night performance. “The community that comes to it, the people that volunteer here and all of the actors make for an incredible experience. This really is my theatre home.”

Shackleford is an engaging jolt of wise-guy panache, playing Joe's shifty fight manager Max Levene with the dodgy hustle of a, well, fight manager.

“It's great to be back on stage here,” said Shackleford, who was last seen in LTA's “It Runs in the Family.” “This is as professional an experience as you can get in a volunteer organization.”

As Mr. Jordan and his assistant 7013 (Mary Ayala-Bush) struggle to find Joe a body better suited for his habitation, Joe falls in love with Bette (Melissa Berkowitz) before being finished off as Farnsworth by the murderous duo of his wife Julia (Hanna Wolfe) and her haughty lover Tony Abbott (Steve Lada). Berkowitz in particular effortlessly evokes the innocence of vintage film heroines.

Masterfully directed by Roland Branford Gomez, the production is humorous and employs slapstick and satire to maximum effect. Best at playing with the talking-to-thin-air illusion is Shackleford, who repeatedly steals the show as the understandably befuddled Max.

LTA brings their customary stamp of high production values, talented cast and innovative design to a play that is entertaining for all ages. Heaven may be able to wait but theatre fans only have until March 17 to see this engaging classic.

“Heaven Can Wait” is playing now through March 17 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St., Alexandria. For tickets or more information call 703-683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.