Review by Tulis McCall
8 Dec 2009
As usual, the Mint Theatre has uncovered another delicious little nugget. So Help Me God has finally gotten its New York opening after waiting nearly 70 years to the day. It was scheduled to open on October 28, 1929 but that stock market crash got in the way. Maurine Dallas Watkins (author of Chicago) stayed with films after that.
Lily Darnley - don’t you love the names from back then – (Kristen Johnston) is a diva with capital everything. For her the supporting cast is just that. She gives them no more thought than she would a new undergarment. Probably less. And they all know it, but a job is a job, and these people are the soul of theatre. We meet them all in a superb opening scene in which they reveal themselves and provide the setup for Lily’s entrance. Catherin Curtin is especially engaging as she leads the cast through their “waiting” period. When Lily does blow in, dog in hand, she nearly knocks everyone off the stage.
This is acerbic writing. Lily only stops talking because she has to inhale. If she could fall in love with herself she would. As it is she must put up with mortals and serve her public who provide her with the helium necessary to keep her several inches off the ground. Into this mix comes a silly young thing with aspirations and a serious nature, Kerren-Heppuch Lane (Anna Chlumsky). Lily’s attempts to discourage her amount to little and she must resort to rougher tactics. Theatre ain’t based on fair play and character.
The first act is tight as a drum, but the rest of the play seems to fizzle as if intimidated by its own setup. Lily’s drive is watered down to mere selfishness and lacks the grandeur of the truly wicked persona we first meet. But there is nothing wrong with this cast or direction. Everyone is on their game, and it is so very too bad that we don’t see more of the folks we meet in the first scene – especially Ms. Curtin. They are the characters against whom we measure Lily and without them, Lily’s shenanigans lose their luster.
Still, this is a nifty production that does transport you back to the good old days when backs were for stabbing and spotlights were for grabbing.
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Uncorks some laughs as it pulls back the curtain on backstage backbiting, but "God!" isn't exactly heavenly."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Watkins' play may be 80 years old, but it hasn't aged one bit."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"A fascinating and funny look at a bygone Broadway."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"Don't expect any subtle intimations of disaster in this irony-free production."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety