Mosley’s ‘Fall of Heaven’ reflects mixed ethnic parentage

Walter Mosley — Photo: David Burnett

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Mystery writer Walter Mosley is probably best known for his popular novels about Easy Rawlins, an African-American detective who solves crimes in Los Angeles several decades back. Among his Easy Rawlins novels is “Devil in a Blue Dress,” which was adopted for the screen in a film starring Denzel Washington.

What many people may not know is that Mosley is half-Jewish:

his mother, Ella (nee Slatkin) Mosley, was from a Latvian-Estonian Jewish background, and his father, Leroy Mosley, was African-American. When Mosley spoke a few years back at the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, he recalled with affection the culturally rich ethnic background of his family. “I grew up with half-sour kosher pickles and collard greens, and I enjoyed both sides of my family,” he said at the time.

Last week, Mosley sat down with the Jewish Light, prior to the opening of his first play, “The Fall of Heaven,” based on his novel “The Tempest Tales,” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. The play – only the second time it has been performed – continues through Jan. 30.


“I was influenced by both sides of my family,” Mosley said in the interview. “Both of my parents really liked to read, which they considered intrinsically very important as a sign of being cultured and sophisticated.”

Mosley said that neither side of the family celebrated Jewish or Christian holidays. “We were Socialists and so we did not celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas, but ethnically my mother was Jewish and father African-American,” he said. “I feel equally descended from both of my parents and their backgrounds, and of course both Jews and African-Americans have been discriminated against.

“I also feel that there is much racism and bigotry in America, which I feel ‘invented’ the ‘white man.’ I was sent to a Baptist elementary school because it had a good reputation as a place to get a good education, which was important to both of my parents.”

Mosley’s ethnically mixed parentage is clearly evident in the action and the subtext of “The Fall From Heaven.” The play, directed by Seth Gordon, is a fantasy about Tempest, who is stunningly performed by Bryan Terrell Clark. He is killed in a Harlem crossfire and finds himself sentenced to eternal damnation in hell for his many crimes and sins on earth. But Tempest protests loudly to the Gates of Heaven that his sentence is grossly unjust and pleads his case to Joshua Angel (brilliantly portrayed by Corey Allen), the “Accounting Angel” assigned to evaluate his case.

Angels are pure spirit entities, with specific tasks. Joshua Angel’s one and only task is to prepare a spiritual balance sheet on Tempest to determine whether his sentence to hell should be commuted, and he should be allowed to enter heaven. At a certain point in the play, Joshua assumes the qualities of being human: having a range of emotions, including empathy, a capacity to feel pain and pleasure and the awareness of mortality. These concepts of the differences between angels and humans are fully consistent with traditional Jewish beliefs.

The themes of the nature of humans and the assigned roles of angels and demons, deeply philosophical in nature, are told in “The Fall from Heaven” – by turns hilariously and deeply poignant. As Tempest attempts to build his case against eternal damnation, we meet the important women in his life, including Alfreda and Darlene, played by Rachel Leslie, and Branwyn (Kenya Brome), who gets involved in a love triangle with Tempest and Joshua. Then there is Basil Bob, played with “Damn Yankees” devilish perfection by Jeffrey C. Hawkins.

Basil Bob, the ultimate Satanic figure, like most on-stage devils has most of the good lines, as he sorely tempts both Tempest, who had led a life of crime on earth, and Joshua, who had led a pure, angelic existence among his fellow Hosts of Heaven. Mosley told the Light that scripting plays “the hardest form of writing.” That may be true, but he seems to have mastered the project. Enhancing the production however, are the efforts of the production staff: scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan; costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee; lighting designer Michael Lincoln; sound designer Rusty Wandall; stage manager Champe Leary and assistant stage manager Tony Dearing. The sets, in particular, seem to have a life of their own, with Joshua’s desk at an accounting firm emerging from the floor and descending again seamlessly, and with several other scene-stealing prop manuevers that evoke many laughs and a few gasps.

‘The Fall of Heaven’

When: Through Jan. 30

Where: Browning Mainstage of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves

How much: $18.50-$65

More info: 314-968-4925 or