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Review: ‘An Act of God’ Featuring Jim Parsons

June 5th, 2015 Comments off

Review by Samuel L. Leiter

AAOG Logo ArtworkEven 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.

Tim Kazurinsky, Jim Parsons, and Christopher Fitzgerald in 'Act of God' (photo: Jeremy Daniel Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

Tim Kazurinsky, Jim Parsons, and Christopher Fitzgerald in ‘Act of God’ (photo: Jeremy Daniel Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

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.

Jim Parsons in 'An Act of God' (photo: Jeremy Daniel Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

Jim Parsons in ‘An Act of God’ (photo: Jeremy Daniel Photography via The Broadway Blog.)

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
Studio 54
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).

“Harvey” Does Broadway, LuPone Does Time & More Theater News

June 15th, 2012 Comments off

Carol Kane & Jim Parsons in "Harvey". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Jonesing for more star power after getting a taste of glamour at the Tonys? Need a fame injection to get you through withdrawal? Well, this week’s theater news wrap-up is glittering with full-strength big names…

  • Emmy-winner Jim Parsons and the sublime Carol Kane are the first hit of the 2012-2013 season with the Roundabout revival of Harvey. Reviews are all over the place so it looks like we may have to check this one out ourselves to get the scoop.
  • Patti LuPone. Image via PlaybillVault.com.

    You want some staaaahhh quality, you can’t go wrong with the original Evita herself, Patti LuPone, back on Broadway and joined by acclaimed film actress (and Wonder Woman’s little sister) Debra Winger in Anarchist, a new two-hander by the legendary David Mamet. Set to open November 13, the play is set in a women’s prison — though don’t expect to see a ready for Cinemax shower fight with this pedigreed team.

  • Two stars not enough to satisfy your fix? The starry revival of The Best Man is dipping into the TV well to replace four departing cast members. Cybil Shepherd (Moonlighting), John Stamos (Uncle Jesse), Kristin Davis (Sex and the City) and Elizabeth Ashley (Evening Shade) will take over for Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack, Kerri Butler and Angela Lansbury.  If this show lasts and the turnover picks up, I can’t wait to see Charo as the President of the United States. No, really, I’d love that.
  • Remember when I said that Vasser in the summer was like the cool kids’ table in the high school cafeteria? Check out who they just announced for their Powerhouse Summer Theatre: Greg Kinnear (Oscar-nominated for As Good As It Gets), Maura Tierney (ER and wonderful last summer at Williamstown) & Jennifer Westfeldt (Friends with Kids and Jon Hamm’s significant other). Yep, stars just doing a little summer theater between big gigs.
  • Finally, get out your score card, we’ve got some post-Tony openings and closings to discuss. Godspell, Other Desert Cities, Venus in Fur will shutter in the next two weeks, a Sutton Foster-less Anything Goes sails away August 5; the musical Fela is making a short return engagement to Broadway July 9 – August 4, and the Tony-winning Best Play Clybourne Park is adding an extension to its full house through September 2.

 

 

“King” Rules, “Carrie” Rises, “Wicked” Returns & More Theater News

April 13th, 2012 Comments off

"The Lion King". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Money makes the world go round in this week’s clinking clanking round-up of theater news:

  • The Lion King proved it rules the entertainment jungle as it became the highest grossing Broadway show of all-time this week with $853.8 million in tickets. Previous title holder The Phantom of the Opera stands at $853.1 million. Suddenly, I don’t feel so bad for King’s director and partaker-of-royalties Julie Taymor (Spider-Man).
  • Talk about money in the bank, the casting for the Central Park Into the Woods gets better and better. Hot on the heals of Amy Adams’s addition to the cast, producers revealed that Donna Murphy (Passion) will be playing the Witch. If you’ve seen her sublime work in the animated film Tangled, you know Murphy will be one mother of an overprotective mother.
  • I still can’t get the songs from Newsies out of my head and I saw it weeks ago. Just to be sure I never forget a single “bruddah,” the cast album is now available for digital download. (PS. My favorite New Yawk rhyme in the show pairs “twirl it” with a very Flushing “terlet”.)
  • Molly Ranson in "Carrie". Photo by Joan Marcus.

    Speaking of cast albums that will get inside your head (literally), the recent Off-Broadway production of Carrie is officially going into the studio to preserve it for all time on April 17. The CD will be released by and available for preorder from Ghostlight Records. Ghostlight and Carrie. Of course.

  • In, I assume, an attempt to cash in on men who don’t want to see a musical with their wives, the guys-night-at-the-theater niche got its next entry (following the warm welcome for last year’s Lombardi) as Magic/Bird opened on Broadway Wednesday night. The reviews suggest that this tale of basketball greats is well-acted but a little lacking in big game drama.
  • I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there are a LOT of shows opening on Broadway this month. That’s because they are all going for the gold, aka Tony nominations, and they’ve got to hit before the end of the month to be eligible.  Tony nominations will be announced on a live webcast at 8:30am, May 1 by Kristin Chenoweth and Jim Parsons. Join me, broadwayblogtom, on twitter that morning for some immediate reactions/analysis/grousing.
  • And finally, in seriously green news, Bloomberg published an amazing article about the way profits are split on the blockbuster hit Wickedincluding almost $90 million for the writers. Like my agent always says, ” In music theater, you either make nothing or millions.” And the mailman won the lottery, indeed…