Q: What do you call a one-act play in which the central character is God?
A: An Act of God.
Actors Comedy Lab and North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre have teamed up to create a thoroughly delightful production of David Javerbaum’s An Act of God. Directed by Bunny Safron, this show breezes along, entertaining and educating nonstop for 90 minutes.
Adapted from Javerbaum’s book The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, the play’s premise is simple: God has appeared, in human form, to correct some of our serious misconceptions about him and his designs. He is accompanied by two of his wing-men (Archangels Michael and Gabriel), and he is addressing a crowd from the stage of what could be a Las Vegas nightclub or perhaps a late-night TV talk show. Hilarity ensues.
Did we say wing-men? We should rather say wing-persons, as one is male and one is female.
Alison Lawrence plays the Bible-wielding Gabriel, who reads and quotes from a massive Gutenberg Bible on command. Perched high above the others in a position reminiscent of that of the judge in a modern-day court, Gabriel complies perfectly with each of God’s requests. Lawrence, however, is not shy about letting facial expressions and occasional shifts in posture serve as wry commentary on the proceedings below.
Tom Barbieri portrays Michael, an archangel who is a bit less subtle in his celestial feistiness, and Barbieri shows hints of Michael’s “feist” from the get-go. One of Michael’s jobs consists of going up the aisle into the house to field questions from audience members. (Michael, of course, can read the questions directly from their minds, so there is no need for them to speak.) When Michael strays outside the box, we witness an example of God’s “wrath management issues” — let’s just say that even archangels can be grounded; fortunately, however, anything can be fixed with duct tape. Speaking of the wrath of God: be sure to turn off you cell phone!
Is it any surprise that, in a play called An Act of God, the actor playing God steals the show? Christopher J. Maxwell’s vivacious charm and twinkle-eyed charisma are captivating, start-to-finish. (Indeed, the liveliness portrayed here thoroughly gives the lie to the claims of the “God-is-dead” movement of yesteryear.) Yet, as God himself tells us, “[Maxwell] has no idea he is here.” God, it would seem, has taken over Maxwell’s body, and he tells us, “For lo, I have endowed him with a winning, likable personality and know of a certainty that your apprehension of my depthless profundities will by aided by his offbeat charm.” Indeed (as God tells us), He has taken the form of a “skinny white boy with a receding hairline.”
The meat of the play includes a “revised standard version” of the Ten Commandments: God keeps some and replaces others. Two particularly poignant ones: “Thou shalt separate me and state,” and “Thou shalt not kill in my name.” And he clarifies the meaning of “Thou shalt not take my name in vain,” affording us with plenty of opportunity for self-reflective chuckles. There is also a retelling of the story of “Adam and (St)Eve” that involves the removal of a “non-load-bearing rib,” some commentary on the “Book of Job,” a reference to a debate concerning circumcision vs. breast augmentation, and a plethora of rim-shot worthy one-liners. There is a brand-new punch-line to the chicken-and-egg query, an analysis of the concept that we refer to as “prayer,” and a promise of something called “Universe 2.0.”
Side Note: David Javerbaum’s script includes observations of a few inequities in the Bible-as-written such as the fact that “Noah’s wife” has no name.
Scenic designer Thomas Mauneyand lighting designer Liz Grimes Droessler have teamed up to create a celestial-looking set that affords a series of ethereal effects as the lighting subtly changes from one color to another. In addition, the set includes a few suggestions of the notion of a “Trinity.” Sound designer Todd Houseknecht augments the performance with apt sound effects and the occasional disembodied voice. And costume designer Jenny Mitchell ably rises to the occasion of clothing God and his archangels.
Is it possible that some folks might be offended? Yes. Might this material be construed as blasphemous? Yes. But: if you have emerged from the Dark Ages and feel inclined to be inspired as well as entertained, this production of An Act of God is for you. After all: if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-everything-else, does it not stand to reason that he would be all-humorous, too?
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 24th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/an-act-of-god/Event?oid=10996823.
Actors Comedy Lab and North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre present AN ACT OF GOD at 8 p.m. Feb. 2 and 3, 3 p.m. Feb. 4, 8 p.m. Feb. 9 and 10, and 3 p.m. Feb. 11 at NRACT, 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $20 ($17 student, teacher, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, email@example.com, or http://www.nract.org/shows/#/tickets/.
SHOW: http://www.nract.org/shows/#/an-act-of-god/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/141287596577204/.
Actors Comedy Lab: http://www.actorscomedylab.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Actors-Comedy-Lab/201926916520429.
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
VENUE: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
An Act of God (2015 Broadway comedy with music): http://anactofgod.com/ (official website), https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=5297 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/an-act-of-god-499262 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Act_of_God (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
David Javerbaum (book and lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/david-javerbaum-476232 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Javerbaum (Wikipedia).
Adam Schlesinger (music): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/adam-schlesinger-476231 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Schlesinger (Wikipedia).
Bunny Safron (Raleigh, NC director and Actors Comedy Lab co-founder): https://www.facebook.com/bunny.safron (Facebook page).
A native of North Carolina, Yvette L. Holder has studied theater at three institutions: the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute (New York), and N.C. Central University, where she received a BA in Dramatic Arts. Yvette also promotes and produces comedy theater, as well as working with playwrights around the country during the development stage of their work. She hosts a monthly play reading session: “Sips and Scripts” at Imurj in downtown Raleigh. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read Yvette and Kurt’s reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.