David Javerbaum, the former head writer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, has attracted nearly two million followers since spawning @TheTweetOfGod, which begat a best-selling book, “The Last Testament: A Memoir by God,” which begat the 90-minute stage version whose greatest merit is its casting. The playwright is upfront about the reason for choosing Parsons, the charmingly child-like star of the TV series, “The Big Bang Theory”; God, in the person of Parsons, explains: “In the desert I appeared as a burning bush. On Broadway, I appear as Sheldon Cooper. Know thy audience. ”
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God is inhabiting Parsons in order to proclaim a new set of Ten Commandments, which he delivers one by one with the help of two arch-angels, Michael and Gabriel (Christopher Fitzgerald and Tim Kazurinsky), “My wingmen. My Genesistants, if thou shalt.”
“I’ve decided to give My new commandments directly to the Jewish people. That’s why I’m here on Broadway. Also, I love theater.”
The jokes come fast but not furious, with the zingers more often playful than political, occasionally accompanied by nightclub-like rim shots. “You’re just lucky I’m the Lord God,” he tells latecomers, “and not Patti LuPone.”
Some observations seem fresh: God finds “bizarre” the children’s bedtime prayer that ends
“And if I die before I wake, I pray thee,
Lord, my soul to take.”
He says: “They are children. They should be asking Me for ponies.”
Other commentary is pointed. His new Second Commandment is “Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate.”
“Yes, I mean the gays,” the Supreme Being explains, and then elaborates with a long tale of how he in fact did make Adam and Steve, but then the serpent seduced Steve into eating the apple, and so he had to give Steve a sex-change operation, in order to inflict “the harshest punishment possible: Transforming thee from carefree young lovers living in the heart of everything, to a married couple with kids stuck in the suburbs. “
Microphone in hand, the arch-angel Michael also walks among the aisles, voicing the age-old questions from the audience – actually, just reading their minds — about how a just God could allow injustice and suffering, as well as more current debates such as evolution.
Although some of the riffs may offend the religiously observant, An Act of God might be off-putting as well to atheists and others who are expecting more bite. Near the beginning, God introduces Gabriel as “the angel who dictated the words of the Quran to Muhammed,” then adds: “That of course was the beginning of Islam, and at the request of the producers, that is the last you’ll be hearing about Islam tonight.” And that is indeed the last we hear about Islam. It’s a funny line, but it also rings true.
Joe Mantello, who also directed Wicked, goes in the opposite direction here – largely understated — with Parsons in costume designer David Zinn’s simple white robe and red sneakers, lounging for most of the time on a white couch, in Scott Pask’s spare Bloomingdale’s showroom of a set, with a white stairway to Paradise leading up to the old-fashioned tablet of new commandments beneath floating white clouds in a pleasing blue sky. These particular tablets were on a courthouse lawn in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we’re told, and “placed in storage after being declared unconstitutional.”
This is Jim Parsons’ third foray onto Broadway, after his debut as Tommy Boatwright in The Normal Heart in 2011 (subsequently made into a movie on HBO), the character who holds it together for everybody else, and in Harvey the next year as Elwood P. Dowd, best friends with a six foot tall invisible rabbit. Parsons is personable, amiable, with great comic timing. But there are hints that, like Jack Lemmon before him, there is within him a versatility and complexity as a performer he has only begun to explore. Even in this extended Tweet of a play, there are moments when it seems evident what great, deep potential he has as an actor. “You’re my greatest creation,” God says to the audience in one such moment. “And I’m your worst.”
An Act of God is on stage at Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street between Broadway & 8th Avenue), New York, NY, through August 2, 2015.
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