Review by Samuel L. Leiter
Even if, like me, you’re not a particular fan of Jim Parsons, the TV star with the quirky voice, boyish face, and looming forehead, you’re likely to have a divine revelation when you see him on Broadway playing the titular hero in David Javerbaum’s play, An Act of God, based on the book written by the Lord and transcribed by the multi-Emmy-winning Javerbaum. An Act of God may not be as outrageously hilarious as some of the early reviews suggested, but it’s funny enough for most of its 90 intermissionless minutes to give your rictus muscles a thorough workout.
Although largely a one-man performance, it’s superbly augmented by the adorable presence of the white-suited, white-winged Christopher Fitzgerald as the Archangel Michael and Tim Kazurinsky as the Archangel Gabriel (“on Bible”), both perfectly cast as God’s “wingmen.” Parsons sits at center in front of designer Scott Pask’s elegantly simple background of concentric rings with a large circular opening (gorgeously lit by Huge Vanstone), telling us everything we wanted to know about God but were afraid to ask.
Dressed in a flowing white robe over a plaid shirt, black jeans, and red sneakers (the costumes are by David Zinn), God debunks all the familiar preconceptions people hold about him and the Bible. Going meta he informs us he’s being played by “beloved television star Jim Parsons” the irony of whose starring on TV’s The Big Bang Theory he couldn’t resist; chastises latecomers (“You’re lucky I’m God and not Patti LuPone”) and someone whose cellphone goes off; tosses off zingers accompanied by angelic rimshots; gives you the inside story on biblical topics, like the Creation, Noah’s ark, Abraham and Isaac, and Job (“the funniest book in the Bible”); has Michael gather questions from “the expensive part of the audience”; and even takes a selfie with his angel buddies.
Michael himself so pesters his master with probing questions that he gets a shot of divine wrath (God later acknowledges his “wrath management issues”). But, sometimes, when God contemplates some of the horrific things he’s done, he explains himself in a way that, while bringing down the house, shows how imperfect he really is.
Using a replica of the Ten Commandments (God says it was taken from a courthouse in Tulsa after being declared unconstitutional), he replaces them with a set of new ones; he’s grown weary of the old ones, “the same way Don McLean has grown weary of ‘American Pie.’” After adding, “Today, the Mosaic dies,” he declares that he’s decided to give his “new commandments directly to the Jewish people. That’s why I’m here on Broadway.” The script consistently keeps up this kind of schmoozing, some of it groan-worthy but nonetheless risible, and the audience eats it up.
Sensitive issues creep in but are handled holy tongue in holy cheek. God, noting that Gabriel dictated the Quran to Muhammed, declares that was “the beginning of Islam, and at the request of the producers, that is the last you’ll be hearing of Islam tonight.” Sex, of course, straight and gay, is fodder for big laughs. Did you know that before God created Eve, he created Steve as Adam’s helpmeet (because Adam “masturbated incessantly”)? If you believe in evolution, you may be surprised to learn how the fossils and dinosaurs got there. When God insists that people stop killing in his name because “I can kill all by myself,” he begins ticking off the deaths occurring at that moment, reassuring the audience that it’s safe, “at least until 3:36 this morning.”
Very little is sacred in this show—certainly not Caitlyn Jenner, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, or Donald Trump—with its references to incest, the separation of God and state, abortion, guns, God’s blessing of America, God’s relationship to victories and losses in sports and elsewhere, taking the Lord’s name in vain, prayer, Jesus (“a cannibal vampire”), and even, God help us, the Holocaust. In a scene Mel Brooks might have conceived, God recounts the time he debated for two weeks whether the Jews should practice circumcision or breast augmentation for 18-year-old girls.
An Act of God, well directed by Joe Mantello, has a simple enough concept, but, this being Broadway, it includes some very high-tech special effects, and even an original soft-rock number (by Adam Schlesinger) to close the show. God does a lot of smiting in this show; I was smitten.
An Act of God
254 West 54th Street
Through August 2
Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).