Off-Broadway Theater Review: HELL: PARADISE FOUND (59E59 Theaters)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on July 16, 2012

in Theater-New York


Hell: Paradise Found. Genesis: And so did Seth Panitch rummage through the intellectual compost heap and picketh he out from it clumps of sour clichés and bits of rotted old jokes, and collecteth he from it pieces of spoilt ideas, which were so far past their expiration date that they no longer retained the properties of ideas, and gathereth he from it rinds and scraps of literary and historical references, and dumpeth he all that crap into a blender, adding to it generous dollops of moldy cleverness and fermented preciousness, and drinketh he down this mixture, then vomiteth it up did he onto blank sheets of paper, thereby creating his play Hell: Paradise Found.

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema review of HELL: PARADISE FOUND at 59E59 NYCThe premise of Mr. Panitch’s play is that all conformists (Republicans, Christians, Facebookers, the Establishment, etc.) go to Heaven, and all independent thinkers (Einstein, Hitler, Mother Teresa, Vlad the Impaler, et al.) go to Hell. Consequently, Hell is where all the fun is. But when criminal defense attorney Simon Ackerman (the irritatingly vaudevillian Matt Lewis) is offered a place in Hell, he hesitates, thinking Heaven might be the better destination.

To call it awful would almost be complimentary to the ruptured hemorrhoid that is Hell: Paradise Found, which Mr. Panitch, an Associate Professor at the University of Alabama and, according to his bio, a professional director, actor and playwright, also directs and stars in as—that’s right—the Devil(!); sitting through this show feels like an evening in Dr. Szell’s dentist chair. Mr. Panitch’s writing, as outrageously pretentious as it is incompetent, both dramatically and intellectually, exhibits not only profound bad taste and absence of imagination but also an utter lack of shame:

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema review of HELL: PARADISE FOUND at 59E59 NYCEinstein (the uncentered Peyton Conley) is friendly with Hitler (Lawson Hangartner); Mother Teresa (the serviceable Stacy Panitch), who’s reinvented herself in Hell to look like a cheap version of Sophia Loren, can’t stop bitching about how Princess Diana’s death got more attention than her own; and Simon, the criminal defense lawyer, who has a reputation for getting rapists acquitted (apparently, rapists gossip), is redeemed (spoiler alert:) by refusing to bring up the fact at his client’s rape trial that the alleged date-rape victim had condoms in her handbag on the day of her assault.

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema review of HELL: PARADISE FOUND at 59E59 NYC“No further questions!” Simon declares triumphantly, as he has finally done the right, non-conformist thing (this being his refusal to question the rape victim about the condoms). Later, William Shakespeare—who is also a resident of Hell, and shows up to congratulate Simon on his act of non-conformity—takes up the same mantra: “‘No further questions!’” exclaims Shakespeare. “That phrase is all the rage. Bartlett put it in his book. Moses put it in stone. E.E. Cummings took a felt tip pen and wrote it on the wall of every bathroom in Hell—and not only that, he used CAPITALS! Can you believe it?”

I don’t believe it, actually, but there it is up on stage. A waste of time and some good performances from Chip Pearsons as Vlad and Alexandra Ficken as Eve and Lizzie Borden. Especially good is Dianne Teague as God, her excellence untarnished by the lousy material. Also, Mr. Panitch himself delivers a dynamic performance, giving his character just the right amount of sleaze.

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema review of HELL: PARADISE FOUND at 59E59 NYCCreating, like child rearing, is a humble act, and the artist’s duty, just like the parent’s, isn’t to impose his will on his creation but to help guide it in the direction that it wants to grow. Unfortunately, Mr. Panitch with his play—and all the “jokes” and historical and literary references therein—is like one of those parents who insist on trying to realize their failed hopes and ambitions through their children, enrolling them in beauty contests and competitions for no other reason than the satisfaction of their own personal vanity. What’s worse in Mr. Panitch’s case is that his “child” is ugly and lame and has no chance of winning.

photos by Chip Cooper

Hell: Paradise Found
The University of Alabama at 59E59 Theaters in New York City
scheduled to end on July 22, 2012
for tickets, visit

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