As leftist manifesto, Herbert Siguenza's Steal Heaven is kick-ass, skewering deserved reactionary targets from the 1960s through today. Of course, sociopolitical commentary is nothing new to Siguenza, one of the founding members of the Chicano troupe Culture Clash. But as a work of theater, Steal Heaven, directed for San Diego Repertory Theatre by Siguenza and Todd Salovey, is rather contrived.
This starts with the setup: In 2017, when the White House is occupied by President Paul Ryan, a "laptop activist" named Trish (Summer Spiro) is accidentally shot to death during a solo protest. She comes to in "limbo," where none other than Abbie Hoffman (Siguenza) explains that if she proves herself worthy, she'll be returned to her earthly body to carry on the cause of justice. And so Abbie's training of Trish begins, with the '60s leftist and the contemporary leftist trying to find common ground while mocking each other's philosophical contradictions and instruments of demonstration.
Popping in and out in comic cameos is Mark Pinter, variously portraying Einstein (colorfully), George Burns with stogie as God (so-so), Richard Nixon in a mask, Steve Jobs, Julia Childs (a howl) and others, including John Lennon (the Liverpool accent could use work, but he's got the look down.)
Cogent points about oppression, the insanity of war and the desperate need for peace fly like angry birds, and the tension between Abbie and Trish turns problematic when it's revealed that, as a solider in Iraq, she killed five people.
Lennon comes to the rescue, explaining (and I just can't see Lennon, who was vehemently antiwar, doing this) that Trish did what she had to do and must forgive herself. But it brings Abbie and Trish together and ensures her eligibility to return to Earth.
Music from the '60s and '70s and evocative screen projections (Trish's acid trip truly is one) add layers to the otherwise predictable revolution polemics. So does the appearance on-screen of a "bullshit meter" that takes no prisoners, left or right, and merits some of the most raucous laughs.
Steal Heaven is a one-act affair, but it could still use some paring (Spiro's rap number?). But its intentions are noble ones just the same.
It runs through Jan. 25 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. $31-$75. sdrep.org
Gunmetal Blues: By-the-numbers film-noir parody gets the musical treatment. Opens in previews on Jan. 14 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
The Lion in Winter: King Henry II summons his previously imprisoned wife and his three sons to decide who'll wear the crown next. Opens Jan. 15 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
'night Mother: Last November, Ion Theatre produced a staged reading of this play about a divorced, epileptic woman whose life is a mess and she wants to end it. Now it's back as a full production. Opens in previews on Jan. 15 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest: A rabble-rouser fakes mental illness in order to serve his sentence in a hospital rather than prison. It doesn't end well. Opens Jan. 16 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Sons of the Prophet: In this Pulitzer Prize finalist, a gay adult Lebanese immigrant living in Pennsylvania must care for his younger brother and ailing uncle in the wake of his father's sudden death. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it opens in previews on Jan. 15 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Steel Magnolias: A newly married young diabetic and the question of whether she should have a baby are the focal points of a play about the friendship of a group of women in Louisiana. Opens Jan. 16 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Tribute: An actor is diagnosed with leukemia, prompting him to attempt to resolve his troubled relationship with his son. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it opens Jan. 17 at the Legler Benbough Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
C.S. Lewis On Stage: Tom Key, executive artistic director of Atlanta's Theatrical Outfit, embodies the writer of The Chronicles of Narnia in a one-man show. Through Jan. 18 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Gidion's Knot: The intellectual single mother of a son who's killed himself confronts his teacher in a tense meeting that plays out in real time. Through Jan. 18 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Annie Jr.: California Youth Conservatory Theatre presents the young-folks version of the musical about the orphan girl who, amid her desperate search for her parents, melts the heart of a stuffy rich guy. Through Jan. 25 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
Steal Heaven: Famed activist Abbie Hoffman is in Heaven, running a boot camp for dead radicals who want to head back to Earth to be effective change agents. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Jan. 25 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
'night Mother: Last November, Ion Theatre produced a staged reading of this play about a divorced, epileptic woman whose life is a mess and wants to end it. Now it's back as a full production. Through Feb. 7 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Wrong Window: In a madcap send-up of Alfred Hitchcock, a man finds his neighbor's dead body in his closet. Through Feb. 8 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me: Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net