You know how it is with celebrities: you don’t hear from them for awhile, you assume they’re dead. Until they put out a bestseller that refutes/justifies/excuses everything they’ve ever done.
And so God comes to us to set the record straight and to plug his newest, rewritten Best Seller: The Ten Commandments (Version 2). It’s about time those old chestnuts got updated, He’s decided. And, the Old Testament particularly has some comedy gold to mine. But as it turns out, God’s writing …. well, it’s a bit overrated.
An Act of God by Emmy Award winning comic writer and producer David Javerbaum, is full of chuckles, certainly, and has some genuine laughs mixed in, but even God couldn’t save some of the groaners Mr Javerbaum has slipped in there.
Tom Story, one of our area’s funniest actors and a multiple Helen Hayes nominee, does his very best, but the script trips him up continuously: in the end, God comes across as rather mean. If you’re hoping for a kindly, jovial Diety à la George Burns, you won’t find him here: the bada bings Mr Javerbaum produces for TV (Netflix’s Disjointed is his latest) take over fairly quickly.
And, like the Bible, the script is wordy. Lordy, is it wordy. God appears with two angels, Michael (Evan Casey) and Gabriel (Jamie Smithson). Like Mr Story, both actors have comic chops to spare but they aren’t given much of invention to say. Everything’s a bit expected: God wants us to know he doesn’t care what sports teams win,doesn’t interfere in day-to-day goings-on on Earth, isn’t influential in politics, etc, etc. Most of these topics have been covered before. Especially if you’re a fan of Javerbaum’s Tweet of God. It’s topical (a few Trump jokes get mixed in, some current news, jokes about God being in Shirlington, Va), but very little is said. Comedy becomes good when it’s actually about something deeper.
If it sounds as if the audience was there for more than a light evening of expected jokes, well- yes, we were, to be honest. The hubbub over this show (Jim Parsons originated the role of God, replaced by Sean Hays), seems to be based primarily on the novelty of a well-known comedic actor playing God, and not the script itself. In a big Broadway house instead of the tiny ARK space at Signature, this is all the more evident: a small house lacks the critical mass of audience needed to laugh at mediocre material. It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes: you’re expecting to laugh, and so you do, but you need quite a few other people to tip you over the edge.
An Act of God
closes November 26, 2017
Details and tickets
Director Eleanor Holdridge could have helped the actors more: there’s an awful lot of God dressed in white on the white rococo couch, just sitting there pontificating (pardon the pun), with one white-dressed angel stolidly placed on the right and one (white dressed) angel equidistant on the left. As far as blocking goes, gee, that’s pretty dull. It’s also, at 90 minutes without an intermission, just one long unending monologue without many visuals to break it up.
Yet it’s by no means a terrible evening out: Tom Story, as always, is quick on his feet and has good solid timing; he knows how to connect with an audience. Likewise, the angels make the most of their limited characters, particularly Evan Casey as Michael. The set by Scenic Designer Daniel Conway is especially fantastic, with a rococo flair amidst the clouds and a hint of heavenly lighting by Lighting Designer Alberto Segarra. Costumes by Robert Cogran are nicely detailed, with God in a natty white brocade evening jacket and a golden G on his belt; the angels’ wings are beautifully stylized,with a dash of gold on the tips.
It is worth seeing, even if what you might have been expecting isn’t exactly what you get.
An Act of God by David Javerbaum . Director:Eleanor Holdridge . Cast:Tom Story as God, Evan Casey as Michael; Jamie Smithson as Gabriel . ScenicDesign: Daniel Conway . Costume Design: Robert Croghan . Lighting Design: Alberto Segarra . Sound Design: Ryan Hickey . Music:Adam Schelsigner . Lyrics:David Javerbaum . StageManager: Julie Meyer . Produced by Signature Theatre . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.