BWW Review: Good Theater's AN ACT OF GOD IS Devilishly Irreverent, Funny, and Pointed
The Good Theater's winter production of David Javerbaum's 2015 satire, An Act of God,serves up mordent satiric wit that masks the playwright's very thoughtful exploration of some of the most serious existential human questions. In a brisk eighty-three minute, essentially one character dramatic monologue, Javerbaum takes on mythos, religion, tradition, and all the other central pillars of social discourse and gleefully turns them each on its head, replacing answers with questions.
An Act of Godis a play that pulls no punches, and audience reaction will surely vary depending on how attached one is to his/her own concepts of a deity and religion. But it is a fearless and funny vehicle for examining the absurdities of the human thought processes, the journey into faith, and the helpless grappling with the universe's mysteries by the creation of doctrine. Javerbaum creates a three-person performance that is largely God's dramatic monologue, assisted by a mini-chorus of Archangels, Gabriel and Michael. God's rambling but never non-sequitur commentary takes the Old and New Testament narratives as the source and then allows both God, the angels, and by extension the audience to poke holes in the traditionally accepted stories, discover the conbtradictions and absurdities, and toy with the idea- revolutionary as it may seem to some - that there is no real order in the universe, despite all the fictions established to make sense of it.
Javerbaum's structure launches from the Ten Commandments, which he rewrites and re-explains in God's verbal meanderings. Each of the first seven re-examines a precept of the Judaic-Christian tradition while the last three take the plunge and throw out a new set of "commandments," among them "Believe in yourself." It is both an existential and essentially humanistic message.
Its beauty, however, is that the play never seems to be a lecture or diatribe. Javerbaum's recipe for humor includes mordent wit, flippant contemporaneity, anachronistic juxtapositions, occasional vaudevillian gags and profanities, and a complete irreverence for unquestioned belief. One enters on the journey, begins by laughing, and ends by engaging deeply with the premises.
Brian P. Allen directs with his customary wisdom and skill. He strikes exactly the right balance of levity and seriousness (in a few well chosen moments) and while quite a bit of the dialogue is obviously irreverent, he never lets the monologue or the few accompanying gags go "over the top." So that by the time we get to commandments 7-10, there are some genuine moments of tenderness and emotion.
The choice of an actress to portray God is one that works especially well in this day, and Laura Houck fills the shoes with aplomb. She has just the right blend of sassiness, sarcasm, tough ego and occasional, but moving vulnerability. She is admirably supported by Paul Haley as a subservient Gabriel and Michael Lynch as a slightly naïve Archangel Michael.
The physical production is lovely with Craig Robinson's set and Jared Mongeau's props creating an attractive, stylized blue-white vision of "heaven" and Iain Odlin capturing the contrats between celestial and infernal lighting. The all-white, elegant costumes by Justin Cote add to the mythology of the theme.
An Act of God is both entertaining and thought-provoking, and as a repertoire choice, it does what the Good Theater does best: chooses a powerful, meaningful play scaled to the resources of the company, and gives it the most dynamic production it can.
Photos courtesy of Good Theater, Steve Underwood, photographer
An Act of God runs from January 16- February 10, 2019, at the Good Theater, 76 Congress St., Portland, ME www.goodtheater.com207-838-0895