By Karen Isaacs
Act of God is on Broadway for a limited run because of Jim Parsons who stars. Without him and his dishy, friendly performance, the show would be off-Broadway, if anywhere.
This is not your stereotypical God — he is neither formal (check out the sneakers from beneath his robe) not serious or at least only occasionally.
Parsons plays God as a cross between Oprah and Joan Rivers — “can we dish” — sitting for the most part on the stage and talking to us. Sometimes he even takes questions from the audience. He is assisted by his two archangels – Michael and Gabriel, who often asks the more uncomfortable questions.
What does this God want to say? At the beginning it is a laugh a minute but later in the 90 minute piece, the laughs mostly disappear.
As the play opens, God appears and it seems that he wants to talk to us about a number of things but mainly about the ten commandments and the way he would like revise them. So the premise of the play is that each of the new commandments –and some are holdovers — are revealed and God discusses them. He also discusses his son Jesus and his life.
How will those who view themselves as very religious take to this piece? It will absolutely depend on individual beliefs. Just as many Mormons, particularly younger ones, have enjoyed the jokes in The Book of Mormon, many Christians and Jews will enjoy this humor. But certainly, members of more conservative groups may find it highly offensive.
Among the new commandments God would like to include are ones that address love, war, politics and prayer. It seems clear that this God has not always liked how we humans have interpreted his will nor how we view him.
Some of the new commandments are inclusive and appear to tell us that it has taken people 2000+ years to get to where God intended us to be.
I won’t reveal all of the new commandments but they do reflect both our more inclusive society and our more egocentric philosophies. One of the new commandments is “Though shall not have a personal relationship with me.” He also disabuses athletes and others who feel that God is interested in whether they win or lose. He points out that he has bigger issues on his mind than whether the Chicago Cubs win a World Series. His last commandment is more of a “new age” philosophy — thou shall believe in thyself.
Act of God , written by David Javerbaum is a former head writer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” as well as having written The Last Testament: A Memoir by God. With these credits you can anticipate the type of humor — literate but irreverent. Anything and everything is open to a joke or humorous comment.
One problem with Act of God is that it seems to lose momentum part way through. It starts with a laugh a minute but soon it begins to get more serious — not necessarily a bad thing — but not what is expected after the opening. So about 60 minutes into the 90 minute play, God is suddenly talking about Job and Jesus; there are not a lot of jokes there.
Joe Mantello has directed this with a sure hand. Parsons’ two supporting actors — Christopher Fitzgerald as Michael and Tim Kazurinksy the almost “smart aleck” Gabriel play their parts with charm. Scott Pask has given us an interesting scenic design and Fitz Patton has created excellent sound effects.
I will say that after the lull in the piece, the ending is spectacular.
How you will react to Act of God will in large part depend on your religious sensibilities and your sense of humor. This isn’t the Simpsons but it also isn’t George Bernard Shaw. But it is good to have Jim Parsons back on Broadway.
Act of God is at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th Street for a limited run through Aug. 2. Tickets available through Telecharge.