I was fortunate enough to see one the last performances of the world premiere production of Delta in the Sky with Diamonds or Maybe Not by June Daniel White, performed in Theatre 54 in New York City.

Within a few minutes of the play’s start, I was reminded of the 1977 film Oh, God in which God appears in a baseball cap and in the avuncular form of George Burns to an astonished John Denver.  In Delta in the Sky, God is played by Austin Pendleton in a rumpled overcoat to tutor the spirit of Delta who had a problem connecting with others emotionally. She closed herself off as a result of the childhood trauma of being in a bus accident involving a number of fatalities. This inability to fully connect followed her into adulthood where she committed suicide shortly before her wedding.

Despite the heavy plot points, much of the atmosphere in the play is comedic. God is concerned about the lack of emotional connectedness he observes on the Earth. He and Delta engage in a number of dialogues, alternatively barbed, comedic and philosophical in which Delta is led to the value of putting the past aside and fully committing to a romantic relationship. In the interim, she helps to cement the relationships between two couples, including one involving her former fiance Tommy. In its fantastical atmosphere and emphasis on second chances, Delta in the Sky bears a certain resemblance to the dramatic arc of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. (There were also hints of the 1990 film Ghost featuring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze).

I thought that it was commendable that the script dealt with the very serious issue of social isolation (a Minister for Loneliness has apparently been recently appointed in Great Britain).  The credulity of the story might have been enhanced if God had staged an intervention with Delta before she took her life instead of bringing her back from the dead (as the angel Clarence intervened with George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, a film which is cited in the play). The drama also reached a certain epiphany and level of emotional insight at the end of a scene set in New York which I think might have been an interesting point to end the play. The following final fifteen minutes or so set on the West Coast struck me as somewhat anti-climatic, at least thematically. The double casting of the same actor to play Tommy and Delta’s subsequent boyfriend Ralph in the last moments of the drama might have also created some confusion.

Anyone familiar with the New York theatre scene would be aware of Austin Pendleton’s extensive credits which range all the way from being in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof to directing Elizabeth Taylor in The Little Foxes. He has also appeared in over 250 films. (When does anyone find time to appear in 250 films?). His performance in Delta was very naturalistic, creating the portrait of a deity as something of an intelligent, rumpled, well meaning professor.

Other members of the cast, which included Regina Gibson, Bob D’Haene, Vincent Ticali, Melissa Hurst and Joan Porter, gave intelligent, committed performances. The role of Delta was performed by playwright White, who was effective at communicating a sense of closed, wary bitterness arising from her traumatic childhood experience.

Set in the round, the production was directed by Michael Padden. In the first scene, Pendleton’s face or profile were not adequately exposed to the portion of the audience in which I was sitting, but otherwise the directing was dynamic. Conceptually the drama is exploring some very interesting ideas.  With some tinkering, I think that Delta in the Sky with Diamonds or Maybe Not would more fully appeal to audiences, especially those with expansive imaginations.

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