The God Projekt: In brief
Kevin Augustine, the mad genius behind 2008's Bride, returns with another mash-up of gruesome puppets and theological fantasy. This new work imagines the Supreme Being as a ghoulish Beckettian wraith trying to maintain order in his celestial office. Expect Borscht Belt routines alongside gory puppetry.
The God Projekt: Theater review by Helen Shaw
An old guy—bald as a melon, grouchy as a bear, friendless as a czar the day before the revolution—grumps around his cluttered office. Dressed in a tatty red bathrobe, he talks to a stuffed monkey (named Monkey) and thumbs through much-annotated copies of The God Code and the Bible. He's reading, we eventually realize, his own press.
In genius puppeteer Kevin Augustine's frustrating, astonishing The God Projekt, the Judeo-Christian God (Augustine, in a terrifyingly naturalistic mask) turns out to be an old coot with a terrible filing system, a habit of procrastinating on his most important duties and a clumsy touch at creating life. This isn't God the Father, it's God the Worst-Ever Grandpa, in love with his own stories and his creaky jokes. “What's the difference between Jesus and a picture of Jesus? It only takes one nail to hang a picture!” he cries in delight, as a conscripted audience member tries to ooze backward toward his seat. And that's before God pulls a gun.
Augustine's God, though, is interested in more than killing a moment. He's also interested in life itself, so the cantankerous old guy has started a project, one finger on Genesis to make sure he's getting the recipe right. He's documenting, too, with an ancient video camera pointed at the action, and some of the first act feels like Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape done on the Borscht Belt. With murmured ironic interjections from his “heavenly helper” (Edward Einhorn, speaking into a microphone just offstage), the Supreme Being does manage to make something, a life-size legless manikin, its muscles flayed and heart exposed, a puppet creation that joggles with intestines and partially attached skin.
This heartbreaking Adam, head lolling back on his puppeteer's shoulder, is in anguish; he hasn't been made correctly, he can't understand what is happening. And when God junks him in the basement with the rest of his failures, we must watch him trembling there, terrified of the vermin and wondering mutely why his maker has abandoned him.
Augustine spends the show alternating between God and the half-man, sometimes showing us God's agitation upstairs, sometimes sending us down into the dark. The pacing of the upstairs material is deliberately frustrating, as indeed will be any pitch-perfect re-creation of an old fart misplacing his files. We keep hoping he'll go down and rescue Adam (who has been caught, painfully, in a rattrap), but God is increasingly distracted: His answering machine never stops beeping (he has trillions of unanswered messages), and a memory of an awful past slaughter has started to surface. Monotheism, it turns out, came at a bloody cost; at least, there's a giant woman's arm in the freezer, and somebody must have originally been good at this life stuff.
To be clear, there were moments in The God Projekt when I thought Apocalypse couldn't come soon enough. Augustine takes his sweet time unfolding his indictment, and God's bumbling routine can make you impatient. Looking back, though, it's one of the most startlingly intense shows I've seen. The piece is very long—it takes God hours and hours to go back down into the basement to see what he hath wrought, and, frankly, I couldn't blame him. I kept forgetting Augustine was the puppeteer; I started to believe he was deliberately delaying the show because he was too overwhelmed—as I was—to visit that wretched creature again.—Theater review by Helen Shaw
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Clearly, I saw an entirely different show to the one described here. Apocalyptic - yes. Frustrating - yes. The piece is very long - yes. But 'startlingly intense', no. What was startling was the inept script and the rambling, meandering of the unfocused plot. Two and a half hours? Really? And it took anything up to three years to create? Incredulous. Sadly, along the way of throwing this indulgent pretentious piece together, a firm-handed director with a vision could not be found. The first act was somewhat amusing, but once the gag of the 'old man-God-figure' had quickly worn off, it seemed there was nothing more to be said. And they took a long time to say it. At the confused, abrupt end of act one, the audience had no idea if it was, hopefully, all over or if this was an intermission. No applause and several people left. If only I had taken the chance myself...instead, a second act of mind-numbing ordinariness followed. The audience response, once God had at last shut up, was tepid at best and very unenthusiastic. 4 stars from Time Out? I am obliged to record one star (it's a mandatory field) - no minus stars are available.