DOWNTOWN — Looking for something non-Holiday-themed to review for the mid-December issue of the Tribune, I found the irreverent comedy An Act of God running for the next few months at the Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Center Complex. I enjoyed the show. At one level, it was amusing, with good, silly, and occasionally biting comedy. But it also went beyond that, with some thoughtful reactions to some of the more problematic literal biblical passages.
The play is based on the book The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, by David Javerbaum (as allegedly dictated by God), adapted for the stage by the author. Javerbaum’s God is an entertainer, cracking one-liners (complete with drum set rimshots for the punch lines), pressing boundaries in all directions, providing enough to offend just about anyone in the audience. His two archangels, the compliant and accommodating Gabriel and the contrarian and challenging Michael to give him foils to respond to. But this is not all silly comedy; there is some Old Testament wrath in him, as well as some sincere apology for his very human foibles (“incompetence combined with omniscience is a recipe for disaster”). The author was a writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and it shows in the style of the harsh, biting comedy that pushes limits and buttons. It is a clever premise – if God created humans in his image, then God having human weaknesses makes sense. During the course of the evening, he rewrites the 10 Commandments, keeping the things that appeal to his all-to-human vanity, but substituting some silly and some more meaningful things for the others.
Director Geoffrey Kent plays up both the silly and edgy comedy mercilessly but does not shy away from letting his actors (and the playwright) push the boundaries of the audience’s comfort zone. There are some tense moments between God and Michael, which could have been laughed off, but were given the impact they deserved. With Michael wandering through the audience, ostensibly to get questions, the intense moments between the two seem to include the audience.
Wesley Taylor, a known actor with Broadway, film, and television experience plays God. The premise is that God has chosen to inhabit Wesley Taylor’s body for the evening, allowing for some fun jokes. Taylor has the looks to fit the huge ego, a nice informal and casual sense throughout, playing up the showman God well, but does not hold back on the very real anger and wrath. Taylor will be performing the role through January 22, with current understudy Steven J. Burge apotheosizing into the role January 24. Burge will change the role somewhat, but I expect that his strong personality will shine through nicely and fit well with the role. As the Archangels, Erik Sandvold is proper and impressive as Gabriel, and Steven Cole Hughes is sympathetic and insistent as Michael. Hughes’ Michael draws the most sympathy, connecting with the audience very well.
The classical set, designed by Lisa M. Orzolek, dominated by a comfortable couch, exudes pastoral heavenly ambiance. Charles R. MacLeod’s lighting is appropriately bright and clear, with some effective dramatic transformations when God gets upset. Meghan Anderson Doyle’s costumes are formal yet with a sense of humor – God is in robes, of course, with jeans underneath, and the winged Archangels are both in suits. I liked the clever choices sound designer Anson Nicholson made for preshow and postshow music.
An Act of God presents a flawed, basically human God, with human weakness, a big ego, and “wrath management issues.” From the beginning, we are not sure if what we are told is truth or what God wants us to just accept. This show is mostly entertainment, and it is very funny. It doesn’t seem overtly theological while it is happening, but thinking about it after the fact, I did go in that direction. This could have been a simple exercise of God chastising his people for misunderstanding him, but while there was some of that (and it was well-directed at appropriate targets), God spent just as much time acknowledging his weaknesses. That added nice depth to the play, giving it more meat and giving the audience more to think about.
If you go…
An Act of God will run through March 12 in the Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, with performances Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm, and a matinee only on Christmas Eve and no performances Christmas Day. The matinee performance on January 29 is ASL interpreted and Audio-Described. Tickets are $ 47. For tickets and more information, call (303) 893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org. Playing concurrently with An Act of God is The SantaLand Diaries and A Christmas Carol, both through Dec 24. Coming up at the Denver Center are The Book of Will, The Christians, and Two Degrees. An Act of God is presented without an intermission, running about 75 minutes, and contains language that some may find offensive.
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