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Review: An Act of God at NextStop Theatre Company

Just in time!!

Review: An Act of God at NextStop Theatre Company
Left to Right- Evan LaChance, Jacob Yeh, and Bryanda Minix in
NextStop Theatre Company's production of An Act of God.
Photo by DJ Corey Photography.

Is it time to hold God (inhabiting the body of Jacob Yeh) to account? God knows - forgive the reference - we have occasion to do so. Even as we hunker, masked, vaccinated and socially distant, within the confines of NextStop Theatre Company, we add more counts to our indictment - a terrible disease, economic disruption, social unrest. And that's just for us, the richest country in human history! At least we don't have to worry about religious maniacs entering our homes and shooting us. Yet.

Just in time, the Almighty has made his way to NextStop Theatre Company where, in the company of His senior angels Michael (Bryanda Minix) and Gabriel, (Evan LaChance) He means to make clear His ways to the minds of humans. He does this in the format of a Town Hall, but without Anderson Cooper. He has an agenda to pump - He's rewritten the ten commandments - but he mediates his sell by taking questions from the audience.

For this He uses the Archangel Michael, who apparently has the ability to read minds. (She does not read mine, thank - well, you know who). Our questions are, in essence, the same questions we have been bellowing out since we slaughtered the last mastodon: Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do kids get cancer? Why do we die?

God's responses, at first flip, become increasingly hostile and arrogant. He directs His wrath in particular at Michael, who has the temerity to mix the patron's questions with a few of her own. As punishment for this, she is forced to hawk An Act of God merchandise, including a key chain and t-shirts. But eventually God is compelled to confront His sins, in a form which does not leave room for forgiveness or redemption.

Christopher Isherwood, reviewing the Broadway version for the New York Times, called it "a gut-busting-funny riff on the never-ending folly of mankind's attempts to fathom God's wishes through the words of the Bible and use them to their own ends." I did not find it so, unless we agree with Ludwig Feuerbach that man created God in his own image. The subject is not our sins but God's. Indeed, the God of An Act of God seemed arbitrary, capricious and simply terrifying.

Part of this may be due to the enhanced fragility of audiences, as a result of our current plague and our most recent reckoning with national injustice. When in the 2015 production Jim Parsons as God announced that He had permitted the holocaust so that Kander and Ebb would later write Cabaret, which He loved, the audience gasped, and then barked in surprised laughter. In the production I saw, the audience just gasped.

The production, and director Tuyet Thi Pham, had evident liberty to adapt the script - indeed, some of the best parts are local references which are blended into the narrative. But there was more. I noticed, for example, that the production removed a reference to the "who shot JR" episode of Dallas (probably as archaic); the editor's scalpel might have been usefully applied to other lines as well (I'm thinking in particular a passage in which God blames the producers for preventing him from talking about Muslims; that might have been funny in 2015 but lands painfully the day after the fall of Afghanistan. There are other examples as well, though.)

Yeh (who in the production I saw was fighting his lines a bit) powers through this with a sort of frat-boy insouciance, which has its own charm. To Yeh's God, God is the coolest Guy in the universe. He stresses the funny in some of the most horrifying incidents in scripture - the flood, the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, the killing of Abel (a basic knowledge of the high points of the Christian Bible will help you enjoy this show.) He reminds me of no one so much as Stan, the Satanic antagonist of Kathleen Akerley's astonishing Something Past in Front of the Light.

Michael and Gabriel are plausible companions to such a creature. Minix's Michael tries to mix loyalty to the Boss with the opportunity to ask hard questions, and thus to be the adult in the room, if that term has any meaning for beings who are infinite years old. Michael is not always successful, but Minix is: at every moment she exhibits that mixture of bravery and fear familiar to anyone who ever had a lunatic boss. LaChance's Gabriel is more obsequious, looking to score points while fully aware of the Boss' - um - extraordinary qualities. In this, too, LaChance succeeds. I am reminded of Steven Miller at the elbow of the former Chief Magistrate.

Eventually God comes to a resolution. There is a good chance that you'll find it satisfying, or at least funny (playwright David Javerbaum continues to tweet as God, and that's funny), but to find out what it is you'll have to go to the show.

Of course, if you hold that we are eternal creatures, as Christianity and some other religions teach, the vicissitudes of this century or less of life are no more significant than a week at a bad summer camp, or the time spent reading an interminable theater review. But that involves a consideration of the far country, from whose bourne no traveler has returned. And that subject is beyond the scope of An Act of God.

An Act of God
Onstage through September 5, 2021
Running time: 1:20 minutes

Tickets:
$35 - $50
An Act of God, by David Javerbaum, directed by Tuyet Thi Pham. Featuring Jacob Yeh, Bryanda Minix, and Evan La Chance. Scenic design: Evan Hoffman. Costume Design: Paris Francesca. Lighting Design: Doug Del Pizzo. Sound design: Neil McFadden. Production and video design: Patrick W Lord, assisted by Halley LaRoe. Properties design: Amy Kellett. Stage manager: Donna Reinhold, assisted by Lulu Megahead and Emma Harris. Rehearsal stage manager: Katie Buchwell. Lead electrician: Kristen Hessenhauer. Produced by NextStop Theatre Company.



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From This Author - Timothy Treanor

Tim Treanor is a longtime critic for the recently-closed website DC Theatre Scene, where he wrote more than 700 reviews. He is a 2011 graduate of the Eugene O'Neill National Critics Institute a... (read more about this author)


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