Rachel Allen, Corey Music, Tony Smith, & Nick Potter in Hell’s Awesome: The Second Coming. Photo: The Bard’s Town
Hell’s Awesome The Second Coming
A Comedic Sequel by Corey Music & Nick Potter
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Nick & Corey are like Louisville’s own Harold and Kumar, or Bill and Ted, or Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Corey’s choice) of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz! Part of the comparison comes from that their writing feels, despite being for the stage, very cinematic.
As if to further illustrate the point, their new play is a sequel to one they did 10 years ago in which the pair died and began their residence in Hell. In the first Hell’s Awesome Satan was a pretty rad dude who hosted a relaxed and highly appealing Hell. Obviously, if you are a devout evangelical Christian this might prove to be a challenge to you.
And once the sequel offers God as a Jewish NYC fashion merchant and Jesus as having settled in Hell to get away from the old man and run his own bar, well…what can I say?
In the beginning scenes Nick and Corey address the audience directly about the peculiar dynamics of sequels to stage plays:
Nick (or was it Corey?):“Once a play is over, it is gone forever.”
The other one: “Probably why there are so few sequels to plays?”
The rapid-fire pace of the dialogue is one of their trademarks, as is the acute self-awareness inherent in narrating your own story, and the distinctive voice is so meta it almost hurts. A very pissed off God (Colby Ballowe) demands that the duo find and return Jesus to Heaven because because he has decided to initiate The Second Coming. If they don’t accomplish their mission God will send them to Purgatory and their laid back good time in Hell will come to an end.
The bulk of the story connects them to Virgil (Joey Eberling) for a tour of the seven levels of Hell so they can locate Judas. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly why bringing Judas (Rachel Allen) and Jesus (Tony Scott) together is absolutely necessary but I don’t believe that matters. Suffice it to say that the team was clearly eager to lampoon Jesus Christ Superstar.
Joey Eberling’s Virgil is an inspired and sustained comic character, with a richly expressive and distinctive voice that suggests brain damage that has somehow left a highly caustic wit intact. Next to the titular pair, this is the most crucial character and Eberling has no lack of comic authority here.
The rest of the ensemble essay various roles with one key role for each. Colby Ballowe as God and Daniel Smith as Satan have worked with this team before and confidently capture the same rhythm and comic timing. Rachel Allen does yeoman service with bright energy until she must fulfill Judas late in the proceedings, where she is saddled with almost all of the character’s dialogue being lifted from Tim Rice’s lyrics from Superstar. It seems like a clever device but is the one element that falls flat and wears thin so quickly that Judas proves a disappointment.
Kate Holland Ballowe also seems cut from the same Gonzo cloth and is especially memorable as Phylegyas, the boat keeper on the River Styx. Phylegyas and Virgil have a specific history that lends an extra layer to the proceedings, eliciting comic gold but also conjuring up some sense of humanity in its balance of recrimination and healing.
However rigorously Nick and Corey the writers have built the script for non-stop laughs, that expression of humanity is unmistakable and runs through the journey of Nick and Corey’s own relationship, which is greatly challenged. Laughter doesn’t occur in a vacuum.
Don’t get me wrong, despite a near-constant stream of mythological references and metaphysical chatter, Hell’s Awesome: The Second Coming is no slog through Philosophy 101, but an anarchistic goof, a drunken dream of Philosophy degree candidates trying to impress their friends and achieving much more. Think National Lampoon meet The Marx Borthers without the sexism.
Yet anytime you place such relatable humans in relationships with God and the Devil, it’s almost impossible to stay on facetious ground. Nick and Corey touch on something deeper than slacker humor however determined they may be to make you think otherwise.
Lights by Nick Potter and lights by Daniel Smith are effective but never overdone, and graphics and projections are also nicely handled, and there is good interstitial music score.
Featuring Rachel Allen, Colby Ballowe, Joey Eberling, Kate Holland Ballowe, Jennifer Riddle, Daniel Smith, Tony Smith and, of course, Nick & Corey.
Hell’s Awesome The Second Coming
June 2 – 11 @ 7:30 pm
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.