Regional Reviews: Phoenix
God has had enough and he's angry. He's come to Earth to enlighten us hypocritical zealots on how we've been manipulating and misinterpreting his laws and commandments. He has taken the form of beloved TV personality Paige Davis in order to better reach us and make sure we get his point. He's decided to come back to edit and update the Ten Commandments because they are out of date and aren't being used the way he originally meant them to be. He's brought his two favorite angels, Gabriel and Michael, with him in order to help him get his message across.
The 90-minute play is based on Javerbaum's Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod and his book "The Last Testament: A Memoir by God." Full of some great one liners and several other witty jokes, the play does meander a bit, which makes its point not as clear or enlightening as it could be. Javerbaum's script is also somewhat uneven with extended sequences about Abraham and Isaac and the original inhabitants of the Garden of Eden that go on too long.
We are told that God is "a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist" but that he also really has more liberal views than some have led us to believeturns out he is very much pro-gay. While He makes plenty of jokes, his "wrath management" issues also flare up several times. These moments add an interesting tone that offsets some of the uneven comic bits. But Javerbaum's decision to tell us that most of the stories in the Bible didn't happen the way we believe they did and how he presents God as someone who isn't anywhere near as ethical and compassionate as Gabriel and Michael makes the point he is trying to make harder to understand. Is the message of the play that God isn't who we think he is? That we're better off in a God-free world? That incorrectly following the Ten Commandments and other rules in the Bible has resulted in us being a more vicious and petty society? I'm not exactly sure. What I took away from the piece was that when things go good, or when they go bad, it doesn't exactly mean that God had anything to do with the outcome, and the updated Tenth Commandment that Javerbaum presents, which packs a surprisingly effective end punch, is one of simple common sense that anyone can relate to: "believe in thyself."
Davis, who has appeared on Broadway but is perhaps best known as the original host of the TLC home improvement show "Trading Spaces," is perfectly perky and endearing as God and full of charm with an expert delivery of the many jokes. While they aren't given much to do, James Gleason and Max Lawrence provide a nice counterpoint to Davis at times, especially in the ethical way Gleason portrays Gabriel and how compassionate Lawrence makes Michael, especially when he asks God some tough questions.
Director Marsha Mason's comic background ensures that the big jokes get big laughs. But her direct approach to the more serious moments also gives an assured tone that, when combined with Davis' clear portrayal, helps smooth over the rougher, uneven moments in the script. Creative elements are sublime with Lauren Helpern's scenic design evoking a heavenly talk show set complete with a large couch that looks like a comfy white cloud and a curved stairway to heaven with stunning all-white costumes from Kish Finnegan. The combination of David Lee Cuthbert's smart lighting and Brian Jerome Peterson's sound design evokes some effective moments, especially when God's wrath flares up.
Part stand-up comedy and part prophetic drama, An Act of God may not exactly answer the burning questions it raises, but it gets some big laughs on the way to its endearing and common-sense ending.
An Act of God for Arizona Theatre Company through December 4th, 2016, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling (602) 256 - 6995.
Written by David Javerbaum