Neil Simon’s God’s Favorite, presented Sept. 7-9 by Stageworks Theatre of Holly Springs and MyComputerCareer.edu at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, opened for a one-weekend stint this Thursday, and will close at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. God’s Favorite is a quirky play, even for Simon; and it has been updated from its 1974 Broadway version to make it contemporary.
In God’s Favorite, a religious tycoon is persuaded that he is God’s favorite human being, but he must be tested to assure his continued loyalty. Most of the audience will recognize that this story is based on the Biblical Book of Job, and Neil Simon has created a set of tests that Job himself might have broken under.
The curtain opens on the living room of a Long Island mansion, reeking of wealth, created by set designer Shannon Stansell and scenic decorator Angela Thornton. The set is impressive enough that it took our collective breaths away. Enhancing the sense of taste and piety are copies of two of Hilary Sylvester’s beautiful religious paintings. The second-act set is equally dramatic in its own way.
Director Bruce Ackerman has cast this show well. The Benjamin Family — father Joe, mother Rose, sister Sarah, twin brother Ben, and elder brother David — could easily be an actual family. They all manage their parts well also. Ackerman paid close attention to detail, bringing out nuances of character and directing focus logically and often. The show moves quickly and smoothly.
Daniel Barth leads the show as the patriarch, Joe Benjamin, who grew from poverty to great wealth on his own, and became a model for all the rich — good, generous, devout to his Jewish ethos. Barth is a wonderful actor who maintains a remarkable reserve and suffers with deep humility. When he is afflicted with the worst affliction of itchy skin imaginable, he pulls off being deliciously funny while in such agony that we are embarrassed to laugh at him, even though we are compelled to.
Joe’s antagonist, Sidney Lipton, is played with a sly and disarming fervor by Gary Pezzullo. In Lipton, we see a fast-talking mercurial character, whom we, at least, know better than ever to trust.
Joe’s wife, Rose Benjamin, is created by Katherine Loflin. Rose is over-indulged with material wealth, and prop master Mary Ackerman has created a large box of jewelry and expensive baubles that adds to Loflin’s over-the-top hilarity as Rose.
The role of David, the Benjamins’ bad boy, older son, is played by Joseph Ayscue. He captures the attitude of any spoiled first born child, whose father has great expectation as well as great wealth.
Lexi Levy (Sarah Benjamin) and Joshua Ammons (Ben Benjamin) bring us the younger twins, who are both bratty and loving to each other; and both Ammons and Levy manage the funny little bits that are made characteristic of the two roles work for them. And Laura Baker and Wayne Burtoft delightfully round out the cast as Mady and Morris, the loyal servants.
We wish this fine show were running for another weekend, if for no other reason than the obviously extraordinary effort the entire cast and crew put into this very desirable performance.
Stageworks Theatre of Holly Springs presents GOD’S FAVORITE at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sep 9 at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, 300 W. Ballentine St., Holly Springs, North Carolina 27540.
TICKETS: $12.98 ($11.13 students and seniors).
BOX OFFICE: 919-567-4000 or http://www.etix.com/.
God’s Favorite (1974 Broadway comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2808/gods-favorite (Samuel French, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/gods-favorite-3954 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God%27s_Favorite (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Neil Simon (Bronx, NY-born playwright and screenwriter): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/neil-simon-7879 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0800319/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Simon (Wikipedia).
Bruce Ackerman (Cary, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/bruce.ackerman.9 (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.