BWW Review: Blasphemy is Fun in AN ACT OF GOD at Pittsburgh Public
Satirist David Javerbaum walks a fine line in his almost-one-man-show An Act of God, creating a cuddly and endearing titular role, while also establishing the darkest and most nihilistic example of Bangsian fantasy (a genre concerning depiction of the afterlife and the universe's higher powers) since David Lynch's Twin Peaks revealed that humans were nothing but a suffering farm to feed the appetite of a hidden cabal of demonic entities. In fact, Javerbaum's fictionalized God isn't that different than Lynch's Mike, Killer BOB and the Little Man from Another Place- he is apathetic, distant and frequently sadistic, little concerned with humanity except when devising new ways to torment them.
Also, he's a show-tune enthusiast and is strongly, STRONGLY, implied to be gay. You heard it here first, Westboro- God is a theatre queen.
This is the part of the review where I have to stop and say- to shout, even- that IT'S ONLY A PLAY. David Javerbaum's ongoing series of media from the persona of an aloof, campy Almighty doesn't have to change what you feel, think or believe about the existence or attributes of God. I don't think Javerbaum would want to- this is a puff piece, not a pointed satire. The audience at the Pittsburgh Public's economical three-man production, the final mainstage offering from Ted Pappas, sometimes felt unsure whether or not they could laugh. As the show goes on, and its depiction of God gets darker and more cynical, the laughter didn't loosen up- if anything, it constricted more and more.
Local musical-comedy standout Marcus Stevens plays himself as possessed by God, who has grown tired of the Ten Commandments, among many other things. He has come to earth, aided by enabling angel Gabriel (John Shepard) and timid, conscientious angel Michael (Tim McGeever), to explain his actions over the past millennia, clear up a few misconceptions about himself, and replace the old Commandments with a newer, more humanist edition.
There's an element of therapy to God's appearance here, as he beats around the bush about his sexuality (including a strained relationship with another celestial being), his rage issues and his difficulties with his son Jesus, who shares none of his Heavenly Father's sadism. It is in this brief Jesus interlude that Stevens, and writer Javerbaum, are both able to sink their teeth into the complexities of the God character the most. Here, for a moment, the satire is tinged with an almost genuine spirituality, with the notion that Jesus died not so much for man's sins as those of the Old Testament God dropping an unexpected religious allegory into an otherwise mostly secular show.
But touchy-feely moments aside, Javerbaum has a point: the Old Testament God does come off as a bit of a dick. As the fey, unhinged Creator, Stevens exudes a gleeful, whimsical blend of innocence, ignorance and malevolence. Like a young and hedonistic billionaire on Silicon Valley, he recounts the stories of Abraham and Job with a palpable joy at finding new and devastating ways to inflict suffering on his creations. These moments are usually capped with an exclamation of "What the hell is wrong with me?" This is, after all (in Javerbaum's conception) a being whose priorities are so skewed and bloodthirsty that he purposely caused the Holocaust just to ensure his favorite musical Cabaret gets written.
If the piece has a conscience, it certainly doesn't come from Stevens's God, nor from John Shepard's Gabriel, who serves as God's co-host, reading from the Old Testament and reacting with mostly silent amusement to God's vicious behind-the-scenes gossip. Rather, it is Tim McGeever's hilariously pathetic Archangel Michael, who fills the late-show archetype of the long suffering "comedy intern." Asking questions psychically gleaned from the audience, Michael Risks the wrath of God again and again, suffering terribly for it every time. Even in the persona of beloved local comic actor Marcus Stevens (as it surely was in the personae of beloved gay man-child sitcom stars Jim Parsons and Sean Hayes- what a specific type God seemed to have on Broadway!), the wrath of God is a frightening thing to behold. McGeever, recently seen as the cringing and pathetic pastor in the similarly titled Hand to God, has a knack for milking his suffering, physical and emotional, for maximum hilarity.
I'm not going to bring any of my own beliefs or inherent biases into my discussion of this show, because that kind of detachment is essential for dealing with a piece like this. Anyone who doesn't believe in God doesn't believe in God, and anyone who does probably doesn't see him, er, Him as the borderline-villainous creature portrayed here. What Pappas's frothy but challenging production demands, in either case, is not the standard suspension of disbelief: it's a suspension of BELIEF. You will believe God can talk, and sing, and joke, and improvise lightly with the audience. And you will believe that being ignored and abandoned by the Creator can sometimes be a happy ending.