Earnest intentions, not fully realized. There’s about 35 minutes of solid entertainment and edification in Herbert Siguenza’s 90-plus minute tribute to Abbie Hoffman, activist, co-founder of the Youth International Party (aka. the “Yippies”), and media junky.
There’s also an infectious spirit of Old Time Commitment that links the slow-paced, often under-rehearsed scenes and makes the show an intermittent pleasure — albeit one that needs revising.
Hoffman was the court jester of Sixties radicalism. His antics, like stopping the New York Stock Exchange by spilling money (mostly fake) from the gallery, gained him national attention. As did two books, Revolution for the Hell of It (1968) and Steal This Book (1971), which so many readers did that some bookstores wouldn’t put it on their shelves (the book also increased sales of #14 brass washers: Scotch-tape the hole in the middle and you had dimes for phone calls).
Hoffman was controversial, even among radicals. According to Peter Coyote of the legendary Diggers — and someone should write a tribute about them! — Hoffman “set himself up to be a leader of the counterculture, and he was undone by that. Big mistake.”
In Siguenza’s world-premiere comedy, Hoffman’s the “St. Peter for radicals” at the Pearly Gates. The “Big Kahuna” has him inspect new arrivals for a potential leader. Trish may be the one. A veteran of the Iraq War, she’s got the call, but needs training. So Hoffman teaches her.
And she him. One of the best parts of Steal Heaven, it looks both ways. Siguenza doesn’t idealize Hoffman (to quote Barbara Babcock, he “includes the hag with the hagiography”). The piece pokes comedic barbs at tactics then and now.
Steal Heaven unfolds in set pieces. Some — like the lunkhead sentry harassing Trish outside the White House, the song “If I Was a One Percent” (to the tune of “If I Were a Rich Man”), the 30 seconds of George Carlin telling the truth in a video, and Trish’s rap version of “Give Peace a Chance” — are gleaming keepers.
Others, like an LSD trip that do go on, need help.
Heaven, it turns out, also resembles a TV talk show. Guests (in Anastasia Pautova’s apt costumes and performed with comic precision by Mark Pinter) make cameos: George Burns, Albert Einstein, Ronald Reagan, John Lennon, among them. Most need better material.
Funny, wooly-haired, and daffy, Siguenza’s right at home as Hoffman, as is Summer Spiro, who showcases her versatility as Trish. And their tandem work is tops.
Steal Heaven is a comedy, the opposite of Sixties agitprop (agitation and propaganda) theater, where the news got printed in pig’s blood. And maybe Siguenza’s soft-pedaling is the right approach for the Facebook-friendly generation “waiting on the world to change” — as if it will, for the better, all by itself.