Fortunately, John Milton is dead, so he will never see the scrumptious travesty that Radiohole’s Whatever Heaven Allows (WHA?!) makes of his epic poem. An impious mash-up of Paradise Lost and Douglas Sirk’s ’50s weepie All That Heaven Allows, this new show at P.S.122 makes the fall from grace awfully fun. It indeed showcases “man’s first disobedience”—and his second, and his third, etc.
The Brooklyn performance group Radiohole has often relied on literary and cinematic inspiration—Westerns, detective flicks, Norse myths, Moby-Dick. Generally deconstructive, their work delights in popping subtextual pimples, resulting in plays that are vulgar and enormously satisfying. Happily, Radiohole combines this anarchic spirit with actorly rigor. No matter how chaotic their stage antics seem, the pandemonium results from ample rehearsal and reflection.
Whatever Heaven Allows opens soberly, with the five-member cast decorously clad. They play Chopin records and recite a few of Milton’s stately iambs. As simultaneous video indicates, the action gradually shifts from a lake of fire to a leafy New England town and introduces a woman in an apple-red gown (Maggie Hoffman), a new Eve ripe for temptation. Following the arc of Sirk’s film, with the occasional Miltonic aside, the actors narrate this woman’s taboo attraction to her rugged, Satanic gardener (Eric Dyer). That he’s actually an “arborist,” as Hoffman frequently insists, does not quiet the outrage of her children (Erin Douglass and troupe newcomer Mark Jaynes) and former suitor (Joseph Silovsky).
As the play continues, propriety lessens and inhibition dissipates. Skirts untie, buttons come undone, obscenities ring out, and the cast cover themselves in an array of colorful liquids. (I weep for their dry-cleaning bills.) Toward the show’s end, Hoffman steps to the front of the stage, seemingly departing character, and launches a synopsis of the film’s ending, saying, “This is where the drama that Radiohole won’t deliver happens.” Don’t believe her. Instead, think back to the dramatic moment, perhaps 20 minutes earlier, when cherry Jell-O plummets from the ceiling, splattering Hoffman and several audience members. It’s a marvelous effect: gross and improbably gorgeous, too. A jiggly Paradise Found.