Beck Center for the Arts’ amusing ‘An Act of God’ a bit of an Adonai-ance
By Bob Abelman
God does indeed move in mysterious ways.
Take “An Act of God,” the play the Beck Center for the Arts selected as its 85th season opener.
In it, God takes human form in order to explain a new set of commandments that better reflect His original intentions, His coming to terms with “wrath-management issues” and His liberal position regarding fornication, child-rearing and the bearing of arms.
The play’s political leanings come as no surprise considering its creator is David Javerbaum, the 13-time Emmy-winning former head writer and executive producer of Comedy Central’s the former “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
Nor is it a surprise that, like the show, “An Act of God” is sarcastic (“I’m not blessing you anymore, so stop asking. Tell your money to trust in someone else”), deceptively smart (Noah’s ark is casually referred to as “a phylogenetically complete nautical double bestiary”) and extremely funny.
But the play is little more than a 90-minute stand-up comedy routine, with an impish, self-critical God delivering a steady stream of direct-address one-liners accented by percussive rims-shots, some sacrilege (less than Trey Parker’s “Book of Mormon” but more than Anat Gov’s “Oh, God”) and a whiff of sober intent.
Good thing God is being played by a local stand-up comedian.
Mike Polk Jr.’s affable personality and well-honed comic timing allow him and director William Rodebush to find an up-tempo rhythm and much-needed fluidity in a script without a dramatic arc and which borrows heavily from annoying TV game show tropes for its storytelling.
When the novelty of God’s revised rules wears off, the “Family Feud” theme wears thin and the aggravating realization that “An Act of God” is not a play, per se, sets in, it really comes down to Polk’s persona and delivery to keep the laughter coming, which it does.
And his improvisational skills make quick work of the random mishaps that can occur during live performance on an opening night, foreshadowed in his playbill bio, which admits to “missing his teleprompter badly.”
Providing God with straight-faced set-ups for His explanations and occasional exasperations – which designers Benjamin Gantose (lighting) and Cartlon Guc’s (sound) augment with terrific fire-and-brimstone special effects – is the skeptical archangel Michael and the supportive archangel Gabriel, played with great charm by Allan Byrne and Brian Pedaci. Both were last seen at the Beck Center in a production of “Waiting for Godot,” which is an irony that playwright Javerbaum would have appreciated.
“An Act of God” takes place on the Beck Center’s main stage since the intimate Studio Theater would most certainly have added to the comedy-club vibe the play cannot avoid.
Most of God’s diatribes take place on a white couch atop a flight of white stairs in front of a star-filled backdrop, devised by Aaron Benson. God’s white robe, selected by costumer Inda Blatch-Geib, looks as if were taken off the choir rack at Our Lady of Intelligent Design, which nicely taps the aforementioned sarcasm and smarts that drive this play.
God most certainly moves in mysterious ways. “An Act of God” is based on the ultimate celebrity autobiography book “The Last Testament: A Memoir,” channeled by Javerbaum. It went on to a Broadway run in 2015, which was clearly an example of divine intervention. CV
“An Act of God”
WHERE: Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood
WHEN: Through Oct. 7
TICKETS & INFO: $12-$33, call 216-521-2540 or go to beckcenter.org
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Oct. 4, 2018.
Lead image: Allan Byrne as Michael (from left), Mike Polk Jr. as God and Brian Pedaci as Gabriel. | Photo / Andy Dudik