BWW Review: OH GOD! at Mosaic Theater Company
What do you do when the creator of all of existence is having an existential crisis?
Oh God! tackles this question with humor and care in the latest of Mosaic Theater Company's series, "How Hope Happens," though it takes a slightly different perspective than the series' previous performances (Marie and Rosetta and The Agitators). And yet, it easily lives up to the ideals of hope and humanity that are highlighted in this collection of shows.
Oh God! opens on a home psychology office, introducing the audience to Ella and her autistic son, Lior. Ella is lamenting the lack of rain while Lior practices his cello; as he takes a break, she gently informs him that she has an emergency patient, and will need to break their routine to accommodate. Despite his initial reluctance, Lior is excited to spend time with his caretaker ahead of promises to watch his favorite movie after, and leaves Ella to prepare for her mysterious patient, who has only identified himself as "G." But it's impossible to prepare for a patient who is in fact a deity depressed, powerless, and running out of options.
On its surface, Oh God! is a fun and witty comedy. The audience, aware of "G"'s true identity, delights in the winking references made as he fields Ella's preliminary questions about his age ("5779"), parents ("none"), and occupation ("artist"). The snickers raise to outright laughter once his identity is revealed, particularly as atheistic Ella's caustic wit comes out as the two spar over his situation and treatment. I took nearly four pages of notes during the performance, and most of them amounted to notations of my favorite lines and jokes - the show is wonderfully clever, with comments that play to every level of theistic background. There are plenty of jabs at humanity (and psychologists) as well, and every comment feels good-spirited even as the characters seem poised to end the session.
And yet, what makes Oh God! a masterpiece isn't just the humor, but also the deeper philosophies and truths of humanity that it touches on. Playwright Anat Gov, dubbed the "Wendy Wasserstein of Israel," has more than earned her title with her sharp and profound insights into her characters, and people as a whole. While she clearly relies on her Jewish background (which, to be honest, was a nice change of pace in the theater scene, especially during the rush of Christmas performances), her play goes far beyond anything you'd see or hear in a synagogue. The show balances that humor with a clear and pensive look at the world, at religion, and at how we treat ourselves and others. It considers how we think of women, and how we treat our planet. And it questions how we interpret the biblical stories we think we know, how we define love and compassion, and what power truly is.
And yet, none of this would matter without the right cast to carry this message. Mitchell Hébert delightfully balances the hubris you'd expect of the deity responsible for all of existence with a shocking vulnerability that humanizes the role. It's a pleasure to watch him progress from cagily dodging questions to showing true growth, reflection, and compassion. Kimberly Schraf is heartbreakingly spectacular as Ella, carrying the competencies of her profession, the trials of her role as a single mother and caregiver, and the skepticism and hurt of a woman who has been let down too many times by a world and god she desperately wants to believe in. Rounding out the cast is Cameron Sean McCoy, who plays Lior with an insight and sensitivity that is a credit to his talent and compassion for the role. Director Michael Bloom is careful to include a note in the program acknowledging their decision to cast a neurotypical actor in the role, and Mosaic made the smart decision to bring in Special Needs Consultant Dana Gillespie to coach McCoy. The result is a performance that feels real without ever crossing an uncomfortable line, which is a credit to McCoy as well as the rest of the company.
The cast is aided by a stunning set, designed by Jonathan Dahm Robertson, and clever sound and lighting tricks, produced by Roc Lee and Brittany Shemunga, respectively. Bloom's direction - enhanced by Assistant Director Jean-Daniel Chablais, Resident Dramaturg Shirley Serotsky, and Stage Manager C. Renee Alexander - keeps the show flowing and makes even the most chaotic moments play smoothly, and ensures right balance between comedy and sincerity.
My only complaint, if I can have one, is that Mosaic needs to start including tissue packets in its press folders. Like the other shows in this series, this performance is full of humor and still packs an emotional punch. I already want to see it again.
Mosaic Theater Company's production of Oh God! runs at Atlas Performing Arts Center through January 13th. The run time is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
Photo Credit: Stan Barouh
Photo features Mitchell Hébert (left) and Kimberly Schraf (right)