But Miss Witherspoon, played by Julie Czarnecki with a perfect constant sense of pessimism and self-deprecation, will have none of it. Once back, all she's interested in is dying again, as soon as possible, and returning to a holding pattern that eventually will end in heaven, or somewhere like it.
But no one up there is listening - especially not her Indian angel (the excellent Indika Senanayake), who dismisses Miss Witherspoon's petulance and stresses her opportunity for achievement.
The play is often as outrageous (things fall erratically from the sky, as if Chicken Little were sane) as it is outré (I dare you not to laugh at the child-abuse scenes, or the remarkable way Jesus is conjured and several religious traditions are discussed.) But here's the strange thing: It has a solid, conventional point about the ability of all of us to change.
Miss Witherspoon brings New City Stage - among Philadelphia's numerous small, spunky professional theater companies - to a new level, at the beginning of its fifth season. The fleet-footed production is directed by Ryder Thornton to enhance the already clever script with great effects - S. Cory Palmer's heavenly partitions that fan from the stage walls, Matt Lorenz's cool sound design, Robert Carlton's original music, Matt Sharp's lighting, and the amusing costumes by Amy Chmielewski. Add the superb acting, and the show generally raises the theater company's future bar.
Russ Widdall, Wendy Staton, and company founder and coartistic director Ginger Dayle adroitly play a number of roles, and no matter whether Miss Witherspoon raises us to its never-quite-heavenly height or sinks us to its lowest point of desperation, it's as poignant in the end as it is funny all along. Durang has God in some form (pick whichever deity you like) holding up a mirror to Miss Witherspoon throughout, asking her what potential she sees there - and asking us the same thing, as we consider just who is responsible for repairing the world.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at #philastage. Read his recent work at http://go.philly. com/howardshapiro.