It isn’t every day that you’re asked to play God, so when 7-time Helen Hayes-nominated actor Tom Story was offered the chance to take on the titular role in Signature Theatre’s production of David Javerbaum’s An Act of God, no divine intervention was needed for him to say “yes.”
“I’m always looking for different kinds of challenges and this is a bit of a different form than anything I have ever done,” Story said. “It’s really fun and clever, but very different in some ways.”
Javerbaum, a 13-time Emmy Award winner for his work on The Daily Show, saw the show bow on Broadway for a limited run in 2015 with Jim Parsons using his hiatus from The Big Bang Theory to play God. It was a critical darling, and a year later, it returned to the Great White Way with Sean Hayes in the title role.
Although Story never saw either version, he heard enough about both shows to know that it was well regarded as a “witty comedy” and he was keen to give it a shot.
“I knew a little bit about the Tweets that had turned into a book that turned into this show, and I knew it had been to Broadway with both those actors, but that’s about all I knew about it,” Story says. “The writer is very smart and it’s important to not short-change it because there’s so much in it.”
While not a one-man show, the role still requires Story to memorize quite a lot of dialogue, and he says it wasn’t that much different than preparing for MetroStage’s Fully Committed in late 2016, where he played 40 characters.
“It was really hard to learn because the sentences are really long and there’s usually a joke at the end of them, but sometimes the set-ups are lengthy,” he says. “It’s really been a process of finding out how much I need to do and what I don’t need to do. Finding that point of view that is my point of view but also serves the show.”
Flanked by his ever-faithful archangels Michael and Gabriel (Evan Casey and Jamie Smithson, respectively), the Supreme Being gifts his mortals with an entirely new set of Ten Commandments in what’s been described as “a sinfully funny whirlwind of comedy heaven.”
“It’s kind of an extended monologue that they help out with,” Story said. “I was doing the one-man show at this time last year, but this is just one person; a hybrid of standup and monologuing like Spalding Gray. I thought it would be interesting to see how I could manage it.”
An Act of God
at Signature Theatre
closes November 26, 2017
Details and tickets
What’s interesting about the plot of An Act of God is that while God is back, he’s inhabiting the body of a an actor—in this case, beloved D.C. thespian Tom Story, to get his message across. That created some interesting character choices for Story to play.
“You’re getting God’s message through Tom Story, so that’s also a challenge. How do I bring myself to the words of this other person—God, but really the author,” Story says. “It’s still acting. I’m not just talking randomly, although there is some improv in the show. It is me telling stories, but a performer version of me. I certainly couldn’t string together the thoughts from this show just in conversation. It’s very funny and very clever, but there are lots of long thoughts in it.”
The show is directed by Eleanor Holdridge, who Story has known since meeting her in the Berkshires almost 20 years ago (the only time they have worked together), and that was equally enticing to him to work with her again.
“I love Eleanor. She’s so generous and open and collaborative,” Story said. “Evan and Jamie, too. We just laughed a lot and it’s been a joy to come to work every day.”
For Story, the play really came into focus during preview week because the audience is such a huge part of it and he needed to have that added to the equation.
“We’re in a small space [ the ARK at Signature] , and they are visible to me, so that’s when it really started to come alive for me—when people were responding and sometimes shocked, and sometimes laughing hard,” he says. “There are a few moments of audience interaction.”
For example, at one point during the play, Casey goes into the audience as Archangel Michael with a microphone and God asks them questions.
While this is usually one of the funniest parts of the show, An Act of God is not just laughs. There’s a serious tone to it as well.
“The play kind of turns three-fourths of the way through and you learn something about God and his opinion of himself and what he decides to do in the moment is pretty radical,” Story says. “Ultimately, the journey of the play is God realizing the mistakes he’s made.”