An Act of God

Review by Stan Friedman
29 May 2015

In the beginning, playwright David Javerbaum created the Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod which begat a fictional majestic memoir, The Last Testament, and he saw that it was good, both in terms of his followers (nearly 2 million on Twitter) and his profits. Thus there comes to us the stage version, An Act of God, mounted in the unholiest of places, that former disco den of iniquity, Studio 54. It's a One-Act of God to be precise, 90 minutes of presentational comedy that, if not quite divine, is at least good for a chuckle or two on our way to the ultimate curtain call.

Our Lord, it turns out, has a few liberal bones to pick and a new set of commandments to bestow ("Number 4: Separate me and state"). To do so, He has chosen to present Himself in the guise of Jim Parsons. Why? Perhaps He knows that Parsons is a perfect draw for tourists who have been watching him for years on The Big Bang Theory, yet has enough theatrical cred to bring in the locals. (And perhaps this show's producers are savvy enough to know that they could easily tour this show with nearly any celebrity.) Fans who come to the theater to feel like a TV star is talking directly to them will not be disappointed, especially if they happen to be seated late. Those seeking rich characterization and a well-structured storyline should just stay at home with the good book. "Know thy audience," Parson advises at the start. Later on, a shameless scene which promotes the merchandise on sale in the lobby suggests that they wouldn't mind milking the audience as well.

Javerbaum spent many years toiling at the behest of another supreme being, Jon Stewart. Having served as head writer and executive producer of The Daily Show, and having amassed some 13 Emmys, the man clearly knows his way around a joke. Here, he truly runs the gamut, from the lowest pun to the highest metaphysical rambling. Some gags are actually punctuated with rim shots. Others, like a line about a shekel-laundering scheme in Gomorrah, zoom over the audience's head without stopping to land the laugh. There's a holocaust joke that still seems too soon, dated references to J.R. Ewing and The Sixth Sense, and current event humor with predictable topics like selfies and the Kardashians.

The writing begins to gel in the final half hour as a subtle seriousness sneaks in and mixes with a wry silliness when the topic turns to Jesus, whom we learn is God's middle child (siblings Zach and Cathy apparently never amounted to much). Amid the laughs, there are the moments of introspection and contemplation of religious self-worth that would have been welcomed from the start.

Director Joe Mantello, having recently done all that he could to breathe life into the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Airline Highway, catches his breath here, plunking Parsons down on a couch for nearly the entire show, and making minimal use of the two-man supporting cast. The angel Gabriel (Former SNL cast member Tim Kazurinsky) shows up to stand in the corner and occasionally read from a bible, while the angel Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald) roams through the audience posing questions, as if to compensate for the lack of physical movement elsewhere. Upstage from the couch, scenic designer Scott Pask has constructed a literal stairway to heaven, surrounded by a nifty and massive oculus for lighting designer Hugh Vanstone to bounce colors off of, and for projection designer Peter Nigrini to fill with clouds, and cosmic star stuff.

An actor with more stand-up experience might have gotten bigger laughs. An older actor might have added some needed gravitas (Think George Burns in the old Oh, God! films). But Parsons' quirky charm is generally enough to carry the day, despite even a rough musical number that he suffers through with Job-like tenacity.

God, meanwhile, gets His own bio in the Playbill with credits including the "1827 comic romp, The Book of Mormon." This reminds us that, along with Mormon and Larry David's Fish in the Dark, there are now three currently running Broadway shows scribed by subversive TV comedy writers. While at first this might sound like a harbinger of the apocalypse, it is encouraging to remember that Neil Simon started out the same way.

(Stan Friedman)

"If God were really as adorable and funny as Jim Parsons in the new Broadway show 'An Act of God,' perhaps many more of us would be minding our morals, rapaciously atoning for our sins and generally doing unto others as we would like to be done unto, all in the hopes of a breezy welcome at the pearly gates."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times

"Put Jim Parsons behind the wheel of a Broadway star vehicle, and he'll drive like it's a Rolls-Royce. Even if it's really a Ford Fusion Hybrid."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"Parsons is charming as a supreme being who's relaxed, cocky and at times a little testy. But this play is merely a glorified Top 10 list in which God gives us his revised Commandments."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"In this divine visitation from the Unmoved Mover, the always charming Jim Parsons will make a disbeliever out of you. In the conceit of the show, the actor's body is temporarily inhabited by the Almighty so that he can chat us up for 90 heavenly minutes."
David Cote for Time Out New York

"Summer on Broadway is when the weakest of authors somehow find a home. This year, it's apparently God."
Mark Kennedy for The Associated Press

"At the very least, under Joe Mantello's spot-on direction, Parsons delivers to near perfection with, dare I say it, his extraordinary God-given talents. I would suggest an 11th Commandment to heighten one's appreciation of 'An Act Of God': Thou Shalt Be Able To Laugh at Sacred Cows. You'll need it to enjoy this audaciously divine comedy."
Roma Torre for NY1

"Jim Parsons would not be the first person to come to mind for the role of God. But the actor proves a surprisingly authoritative Supreme Being in David Javerbaum's hilarious comedy An Act of God."
Frank Scheck for The Hollywood Reporter

"Swear to God, the rabid fans greeting the appearance of Jim Parsons in "An Act of God" like the Second Coming honestly don't give a damn what critics might have to say about the beloved TV star in this enjoyable but unthreatening comedy."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Time Out - Associated Press - NY1 - Hollywood Reporter - Variety

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