BWW Review: God Takes Center Stage at the New Jewish Theatre
Four years ago the New Jewish Theatre offered a side-splitting evening of Four Old Jews Telling Jokes; now they offer An Act of God. Once again it's an evening of stand-up comedy. So, who do you think could tell a joke better than an old Borscht-Belt Jewish comic? Do I hear you cry, "Nobody!"? Well, how about God himself? God's famous for his sense of humor; just look at the book of Job.
Now there is some ambiguity about the personage occupying center-stage in this show. He claims to be God taking on the persona of (in his words) "that beloved St. Louis theater icon, Alan Knoll." I kinda think that he's really Alan Knoll taking on the persona of God taking on the persona of . . . Well, anyway, he does not have a long white beard, so I'm a little skeptical.
Knoll is a masterful comic actor and this performance is a true tour de force: ninety minutes of non-stop Bible-based humor, only occasionally relieved by interaction with God's young assistants, the archangels Michael (Cassidy Flynn) and Gabriel (Amanda Wales).
I last saw Alan Knoll in another tour de force-the one-man show, Infected, at Upstream. That was a play full of anxiety stretched to the point of horror-the 180° opposite of An Act of God, which is kind of geniality stretch to the point of lunacy.
An Act of God is certainly timely. Well . . . an omnipotent, incompetent, irrational ego-maniac with a hair-trigger temper and "wrath-management issues"-and with access to weapons of mass destruction (lightning, plague, floods)? The Voice From the Whirlwind wasn't exactly Twitter, but it got people's attention. (The play actually had its Genesis in a series of Tweets!)
Well, returning to our sheep . . .
Playwright David Javerbaum makes fun of everything from the Creation to Noah's ark to the Ten Commandments to the Nativity to the way that politicians (and sports figures and celebrities) claim God to be on their side. There are sex jokes, gay jokes, gun-control jokes, Islam jokes, Jesus jokes-even Virgin Mary jokes. A few are little musty but many are fresh and sparkling. All are beautifully told. Some of the laughs are on members of the audience, as the Archangels pass among us with microphones, pretending to take questions from us.
Cassidy Flynn and Amanda Wales, as Michael and Gabriel, are as fresh and young and beautiful and neat and energetic and God-adoring as if they were newly-minted Mormon "Elders" or had just stepped out of an "Up With People" choir.
As usual at New Jewish the production was technically perfect: direction by Edward Coffield, set and lights by Josh Smith, costumes by Michele Siler, sound by Amanda Were, projections by Michael Perkins.
So it was a finely-tuned lot of fun. But after a while I began to sense a deep cynicism in the air. Now I'm the least religious of men, but much of the evening is based on an intense trivializing of the Bible. And God? You don't have to respect him, but there was not even a trace of affection for the old Guy.
In the end Javerbaum realizes that he can't send his audience out with just mockery and cynicism. He takes a little uplifting turn and leaves us with the message, "Believe in thyself." Not a bad motto, but it was kind of tacked on.
Javerbaum does provide an irrefutable answer to a question that has baffled theologians for centuries: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" "Duh! It balances out all the good things that happen to bad people!"
An Act of God continues at the New Jewish Theatre through December 16.