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THEATER REVIEW: “Steal Heaven” at San Diego Rep

Nobody told me in Sunday school that if I became a good political activist, I’d be greeted at the Pearly Gates by Abbie Hoffman.

But that’s what happens to Trish Lazaro (Summer Spiro), “accidentally” shot dead by a security guard while protesting outside the White House.

The old frizzy-haired 1960s radical (Herbert Siguenza) tells her “you can stay out here in limbo – which is like spending eternity at the DMV in Fresno – or you can come with me to Heaven where I can retrain you.”

Trish doesn’t want to be trained; she just wants to text her wife and get back home to their kids. But she finds “there’s no wi-fi here – only hi-fi.”

Abbie is so impressed by her spunk and “bad attitude” that he thinks she’s the one who can carry on the work of “JC ... the first longhair hippie radical.” Besides, he tells her, that’s the only way she can get back home.

That’s the setup for Siguenza’s “Steal Heaven,” playing through Jan. 25 at San Diego Repertory Theatre.

Siguenza, founding member of the comedy troupe Culture Clash, is well known in these parts for his riveting one-man show “A Weekend With Pablo Picasso” and for last season’s imaginative “El Henry,” a Hispanic-tinged rewrite of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Pt. 2.” Here Siguenza seems to be presenting an apologia for his life of activism and advocacy theater.

Old-time lefties will get a blast from the past here, with talk (and video) of the Chicago 7 trial, a description of the money-toss off the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange (the scramble for those loose bucks shut down trading for six minutes), a few of Hoffman’s speeches and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Promised Land” speech.

Several famous figures come and go, beginning with George Burns’ version of God. “It only takes one drink to get me drunk,” quips Burns/God. “The trouble is, I can’t remember whether it’s the 13th or 14th.”

Ronald Reagan shows up as a pizza delivery man; Timothy Leary brings LSD-laced cookies; Albert Einstein rides in on a bike; even Julia Child makes an appearance.

And let’s not forget Steve Jobs, who drops in to hype his new OS iRebel – and to demonstrate (to great hilarity) the new app called Bullshit Detector.

There’s a lot of activism, a bit of ’60s philosophy, even John Lennon, noting that “there’s nothing to hold onto” and counseling, “just BE.”

Bravo to Mark Pinter, who plays all these extra characters brilliantly and with great panache.

In fact, all three actors are perfectly cast. Spiro shows flexibility (those push-ups!) and versatility in acting styles (wait till you get a load of her hip-hop “Give Peace a Chance”). She also comes across as genuine, especially in a moving description of a war experience that scarred her.

Siguenza’s script is a bit slapdash and has some dead spots (what is that Nixon bit about? And that “Seven Ages of Trish” number doesn’t add much), but he’s a hoot as Hoffman, the ringleader of this circus.

The tech team makes valuable contributions as well, most notably Victoria Petrovich’s projections and Kevin Anthenill’s sound design. Danielle Griffith’s wigs and Anastasia Pautova’s costumes do much to define the drop-in characters particularly.

“Steal Heaven” is more apologia than storytelling, which may limit the audience, but there’s some fine acting going on here.

The details

“Steal Heaven” plays through Jan. 25 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego, California.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2, 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.