An Act of God has returned to Broadway with Sean Hayes. Below is David Cote's 2015 review of the world premiere, which starred Jim Parsons.
There aren’t many lies you can tell about God that organized religion hasn’t told already: He is loving, He rewards the faithful, He is a He, and the biggest crock of all, He exists. And yet comedy writer David Javerbaum (formerly of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) finds new ways to make the Supreme Being his sock puppet in An Act of God, this summer’s blithely blasphemous occupant at Studio 54. In this divine visitation from the Unmoved Mover, the always charming Jim Parsons will make a disbeliever out of you. In the conceit of the show, the actor’s body is temporarily inhabited by the Almighty so that he can chat us up for 90 heavenly minutes.
The stage is a particularly apt forum to examine (or travesty) the mechanics of belief: Like a place of worship, it welcomes like-minded people to enact a ritual and affirm common beliefs—and what is your average church service but community theater with a mediocre script? One difference is that a good play goes beyond comfort: It rattles your complacencies. (I’m not sure I’d go that far with Act; you’d have to be an especially thick believer to not see secular satire from miles away.) Still, Javerbaum’s radical rewrite of the Ten Commandments—the evening is structured around God’s introduction of revised laws—is clever and even refreshingly positive, insisting on the separation of church and state and encouraging us to believe in ourselves, not some elderly white guy in the sky.
Joe Mantello’s handsome production—in which Parsons is backed by Christopher Fitzgerald and Tim Kazurinsky as the angels Michael and Gabriel, respectively—gets much comic oomph out of Javerbaum’s excellently turned one-liners. Scott Pask’s cosmic-lounge set borrows heavily from the concentric ellipses of James Turrell’s Aten Reign (at the Guggenheim two years ago), and some strategically cheesy video (clouds, hellfire) adds eye candy.
The script (adapted from the author’s 2011 book, The Last Testament) even achieves some pathos, mainly from pro-humanity Michael’s frustration with his Lord, who evades questions in mysterious ways. And things get downright touching with God’s recollection of Jesus Christ; our Creator resembles a confused parent torn between pride and guilt. In fact, the best thing about Act is the way that Javerbaum takes the anthropomorphism of standard belief to its grotesque, logical conclusion: God realizing that He’s a narcissistic sociopath who needs help. By the end, you’re almost ready to forgive Him His sins.—David Cote
Studio 54 (Broadway). By David Javerbaum. Directed by Joe Mantello. With Jim Parsons, Christopher Fitzgerald, Tim Kazurinsky. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through Aug 2.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote