‘Heaven Can Wait’ is a knockout production

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You know that seemingly shy guy who writes about dinosaur bones from time to time, or maybe has whisked away your used pint glasses at Berryessa Brewing Co.? You may be astounded to discover that he is an amazingly talented actor.

Yes, Tyler Tufts, in the lead role Joe Pendleton in the Winters Theatre Company production of “Heaven Can Wait” is a true champ. In fact, the entire production, from stem to stern, is a knockout and one of the best WTC productions to date. Kudos to director Jesse Akers, not only for excellent casting but for masterful directing. Every line, every scene was fast-paced, crisp and on the mark, and if Akers doesn’t get a Sacramento Area Regional Theater Alliance (SARTA) nomination for this play, SARTA should hang up their reviewer credentials.

Tufts brought youthful exuberance to this role about a prize fighter who end up at the pearly gates before his time, thanks to a mistake made by Messenger 7013, who snatches Pendleton from a plane crash just before he dies. Her dilemma, however, is that Pendleton was destined to survive the crash. Unfortunately, the error was detected after his body had already been cremated.

And so, the search is on to find an acceptable body for Pendleton to return to Earth and finish what his life’s tasks were meant to be, under the watchful eye of Mr. Jordan, Heaven’s concierge. The body of Mr. Farnsworth is selected, just as he is at the moment of being drowned, courtesy of his ice-in-her-veins wife, Julia, and her lover and Farnsworth assistant, Tony Abbott.

Of course, Pendleton sets out to whip that old Farnsworth body into shape for a prize fight, much to the astonishment of his manager, Max Corkle, who can’t quite adjust to Pendleton existing in a middle-aged body, let alone winning a fight. Adding yet another twist to the plot is that Julia and Tony aren’t giving up so quickly, and Pendleton’s plan to head into the boxing ring may be thwarted.

To give away any more of the play would be to ruin the experience. This is a play you cannot miss. The acting is superb, the story engaging and entertaining, and simply put, this is community theater at its finest.

Hats off to Tufts, for an outstanding performance through and through, and may we see much, much more of him on stage. For such a quiet person offstage, Tufts bursts with energy and enthusiasm. Also bubbling with personality is Michelle Novello, the earnestly over-achieving, cute-as-a-button Messenger 7013, the culprit for all the madness.

Tom Rost is smooth and soothing as Mr. Jordan, and exactly what anyone would want in a heavenly concierge, particularly when things go awry. Ana Kormos lets her evil side shine through, as the bored and pampered Julia Farnsworth, her voice dripping with disdain. The multi-talented Loren Skinner (last seen as the Tin Main in “The Wizard of Oz” makes a sly, slick villain in the role of Tony Abbott.

As if the play weren’t already wonderful enough, Scott Graf rounds out the major roles as boxing manager Max Corkle, and as is the case in every play in which he appears, injects a zany wit and precision timing into his roles. Whenever Graf appears in a play, it’s a bonus.

Dona Akers and Germaine Hupe play the Farnsworth maids, and seeing both these lovely ladies on stage together makes one wish for a reprise of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” in which they simply shined. Two words for two veterans: beloved and adorable.

The sweetly serious Lyra Dominguez plays the love interest, capturing the heart of Pendleton-as-Farnsworth, and giving Pendleton yet more incentive to keep on fighting.

The cast includes Robert Williams, Carole Ludington, Ann Rost, Michael Barber, Garrett Matheson, Elliot Landes and Pietro Bolla, and it seems that Valerie Whitworth crossed the stage as well, uncredited.

The play continues on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 25. Tickets are $12/general admission, $10/seniors and $8/12 and under, with the exception of the March 10 performance, a benefit for Celebration Arts. Tickets on that night are $20, which includes dessert and non-alcoholic beverages.

For tickets, reservations or more information, call 795-4014, email winterstheatre@gmail.com or visit winterstheatre.org.

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