An Act of God – Review by Geary Danihy

What hath God wrought?

Well, he’s condescended to visit Earth to answer some questions you might have about evil, suffering, prayer and the Kardashians and, in the process, revise the Ten Commandments (most of the original set not being very applicable any more). Some might say, “Well, God help us,” but he’s tired of being asked to do things, so don’t bother. This omnipotent, omniscient being has chosen to manifest himself at TheatreWorks New Milford in a new comedy, “An Act of God,” an often irreverent one-act show that’s part stand-up comedy, a bit of ad-lib and part SNL take-down of the pompous and the PC police who are ever ready to huff and puff over humanity’s less than sanctimonious ways.

God has chosen to take the form (i.e., inhabit the body of) Matt Austin. He is accompanied by two of his chief angels, Gabriel (Suzanne Powers) and Michael (Josh Newey). While God begins to explain what’s what with the creation story and the truth of the Bible, Gabriel provides props and appears with new commandments while Michael works the crowd, sensing what questions they might have for God – many of them real posers.

Directed by Katherine Ray and written by David Javerbaum, this take on God letting his hair down and fessing-up to some mistakes he’s made along the way – yes, he’s omniscient, but that doesn’t mean that he wants to know everything, just that he could – may make some people squirm a bit, but if nothing else it, beyond the humor, makes you think.

Think about what? Well, how about the Creation story – the six days of creating the earth and the fish and birds and all that stuff and, finally, man? Well, make that men, for after God created Adam and saw that he was lonely he created a helpmate in the form of Brian. They got along famously until the snake conned Brian into eating that apple and the two men realized they were performing “unnatural” acts. Ooops! Can’t have that, so God created woman. Makes sense, as does the story of Job, which God thinks is the most hilarious book in the Bible. What doesn’t make sense is the whole Noah and the ark story. As God points out, how the hell would all those animals fit into that ship – and what about the hygiene? Actually, besides his family, Noah only brought along two puppies to keep everyone company on the long voyage.

Austin is dead-on as a god who wants to set things straight. His take on God is as a talk-show host – think Johnny Carson – shooting out zingers and one-liners and then feigning innocence. As his assistants, Newey gives us an all-to-human Michael who often has the audacity to question God’s wisdom, while Powers is as flighty as a butterfly, eager to do God’s bidding.

The evening is lighthearted, but underneath the comedic surface Javerbaum addresses some issues that bear consideration as he has God revise the Ten Commandments. At one point, God tells people that they have to stop killing in his name, although he confesses that he’s done more than his fair share of slaughter. After all, he flooded the planet.

In the end, God really can’t answer many of the existential questions that human beings have pondered since time immemorial. His final decision is to leave us to our own devices, to continue pondering the imponderables. In other words, he’s as fallible and troubled as we are, admitting that he has a “wrath” issue and perhaps went too far with Abraham and Isaac and that his divine plan – he initially thought that the fish should fly and the birds swim – always didn’t work out as expected. Hence, we are left with the idea that God is our own creation, and that he didn’t make man in his likeness but we made him in ours.

Theater is meant to entertain, but it is also meant to stimulate thought and conversation. “An Act of God” does both. I can envision many lively discussions post-curtain for those who attend and go out for a cocktail (or tea) afterwards. If nothing else, via humor, sarcasm and innuendo, the play challenges received beliefs, something that needs to happen every once in a while to defeat the smugness of those who claim to know the truth and damn all those who do not believe as they do. Kudos to TheatreWorks for deciding to stage this play. It may ruffle some feathers and tilt some halos, but maybe those feathers need to be ruffled just a bit and the halos need to be put in a drawer.

“An Act of God” runs through August 4. For tickets or more information go to www.theatreworks.us or call 860-350-6863.

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