BWW Reviews: GOD ONLY KNOWS Asks the Question 'What Does it Mean to Have Faith?'
According to the Oxford Dictionary, faith means having complete trust or confidence in someone or something, a strong belief in God or in a doctrine of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. In GOD ONLY KNOWS, Hugh Whitemore presents his audience with a factual, intelligent and intense debate over the validity and origins of faith, especially Christianity. It also explores humankind's need to believe in or have faith is something greater than ourselves. Could it be that mankind's historical need for some sort of a supreme being is an attempt to explain that which perhaps cannot be explained in order to make life bearable?
As you enter Theatre 40, Jeff G. Rack's evocatively moody outdoor patio set, complete with soothing fountain and noisy crickets, will lull you into a sense of tranquility. The play begins with two British couples, Charles and Eleanor (Chet Grissom and Pippa Hinchley) and Vin (who makes sure the wine keeps flowing throughout the play) and Kate (David Hunt Stafford and Wendy Radford), deep into a game of Monopoly while they are vacationing in a rented home in Italy with an out-of-order phone, miles from the nearest neighbor.
Their game is disturbed when they hear a nearby car crash. Soon after, they are confronted by the survivor of the wreck, Humphrey Biddulph (Ron Bottitta), another Englishman who reluctantly tells them he is a researcher for the Vatican and has come into possession of a controversial document from an unsavory source. The document alleges that the Resurrection of Jesus was an elaborately staged fraud, with a look-alike impostor taking the place of the dead Christ. If this assertion should prove correct and become generally known, it could call both the founding and the continuing existence of Christianity into question.
Biddulph has more immediate concerns. He believes that agents of the Vatican are in pursuit of him and intend to kill him. His source has already been found dead under mysterious circumstances. Is he telling the truth, or is he just a paranoid nut case? Why is he dressed in pajamas and a Rolling Stones jacket? If he isn't lying and the vacationers aid him in his escape from pursuers, will they also become the targets of fanatical killers? They just wanted a nice respite in Italy - are they all now in the deadliest danger?
Bottitta has incredibly long monologues about the letter, faith, Christianity, and goes into what he sees as proof that faith has no place in human existence since it is all based on falsehoods. Can the persistence of faith withstand even the inconvenience of contrary historical facts? Such is the subject matter of much of the play, so intense and mind-challenging that it may be difficult to always stay with the conversation. But at the end, I walked out with a group of people who spent many minutes talking about what it means to have faith, something we all agreed cannot be proven or disproved. It just is. And we were all fine with that. It does not matter what you believe, just that you believe.
David McClendon directs GOD ONLY KNOWS with a sure hand, positioning the five characters so they are almost always filling the entire stage, standing or sitting around and about while pondering the deep conversations taking place or attempting to deal with what might be the most dangerous situation any of them has ever faced. As the play progresses, the characters each reveal and question their own set of beliefs upon which their faith or lack of faith is based. Certainly each audience member will see bits and pieces of themselves in each of these characters. Those who are well versed in the Bible will have a better understanding of the many conversations regarding the basis of faith in unbelievable situations.
Will the five Brits survive their peril? Or were they ever really in any peril? How will their faith in each other get them through the night? Is Bottitta really being followed or is he just an escapee from an insane asylum? GOD ONLY KNOWS and neither of us are telling.
Mystery thriller GOD ONLY KNOWS written by Hugh Whitemore, directed by David McClendon, and produced by David Hunt Stafford, has its U.S. Premiere engagement at Theatre 40, a professional company in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. There is ample free parking beneath the theatre. The venue is on the campus of Beverly Hills High School.
Performances run from March 20-April 20, 2014 on Thurs., Fri., Sat. at 8:00 p.m. Sun. at 2:00 p.m.
ADMISSION: Thurs. & Fri., $24. Sat. & Sun., $26.
RESERVATIONS: (310) 364-0535.
ONLINE TICKETING: www.theatre40.org