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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. The Almighty makes his Broadway debut in, of all places, the notoriously unholy Studio 54, to deliver a new set of Ten Commandments directly to the Jewish people.
“That’s why I’m here on Broadway,” he explains.
For the occasion, he’s chosen to appear in the form of the “beloved television star” Parsons, and no, the irony that the actor appears in a show called The Big Bang Theory isn’t lost on him. He’s accompanied by two archangels, or “wingmen,” Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Gabriel (Tim Kazurinsky).
Clad in a traditional white robe offset by bright orange sneakers, God proves himself a rather truculent King of the Universe, clearly annoyed by the latecomers interrupting his divine pronouncements. Berating them for their tardiness, he comments, “You people are lucky I’m God and not Patti LuPone.”
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Although it features some holdovers from the original, the new commandments reflect God’s displeasure at the way the human race has deviated from his good intentions. Among the new rules are “Thou shalt not kill in my name,” “Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate” and “Thou shalt separate Me and state,” accompanied by lengthy explanations revealing considerable impatience with our insolence.
“Go tell your money to trust someone else!” he snaps at one point.
He also takes questions from the audience as relayed by Michael, who’s wandering the theater’s aisles — don’t bother preparing, they’re all clearly scripted — and eventually finds himself confronted by the angel, who demands to know such things as whether God actually answers prayers. He doesn’t respond at all well to the interruptions, summoning thunder and lightning and transforming his voice into terrifying, booming tones.
“I’m sorry you had to see me like that,” God tells the crowd after calming down. “I have … wrath management issues.”
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The script by Javerbaum — a former head writer and executive producer of The Daily Show — is both outrageously irreverent and deeply thoughtful in its exploration of religious issues. The Book of Mormon seems almost restrained by comparison. Decrying the familiar childhood prayer “And if I die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take,” God points out, “Even I consider it bizarre that the last word on children’s lips would address the prospect of their premature death.” He also takes pains to explain his misunderstood role in the Book of Job and his instruction to his beloved Abraham that he should sacrifice his son Isaac, as well as his relationship with his own son, “Junior,” whom he describes as “one tough son of a bitch.”
Whether slamming sports figures and celebrities who credit him for their success even though he has absolutely no interest in whether they win awards or throw a touchdown pass, or explaining that he doesn’t take the time to bless either America or people who sneeze (“The word you’re looking for is Gesundheit“), God clearly has a lot on his limitless mind.
The proceedings will no doubt prove offensive to many viewers, with one bit, in which God explains that if there was no Holocaust there would be no Cabaret the musical, producing more than a few groans. But there’s at least one area about which he wisely shies away from commenting. After explaining that it was Gabriel who dictated the words of the Quran to Muhammad, he adds, “At the request of the producers, that’s the last you’ll be hearing about Islam tonight.”
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Although Kazurinsky and Fitzgerald provide terrific deadpan comic support, this is essentially a one-person show, and Parsons runs with it. Displaying the expert comic timing and delivery that’s won him numerous television awards, the actor here delivers a tour-de-force turn in which he fully commands the stage for 90 minutes. Director Joe Mantello‘s sterling production features a lavish set designed by Scott Pask, marked by a grand staircase seemingly leading up to Heaven, with Hugh Vanstone‘s lighting and Fitz Patton‘s sound design adding greatly to the ethereal effect.
Being a comedy sketch stretched out to feature length, An Act of God inevitably has its longueurs. But there’s no denying that this wickedly clever evening is both thought-provoking and anarchic fun.
Cast: Jim Parsons, Christopher Fitzgerald, Tim Kazurinsky
Playwright: David Javerbaum
Director: Joe Mantello
Set designer: Scott Pask
Costume designer: David Zinn
Lighting designer: Hugh Vanstone
Sound designer: Fitz Patton
Music: Adam Schlesinger
Presented by Jeffrey Finn, The Shubert Organization, Carl Moellenberg, Arielle Tepper Madover, Stacey Mindich, Bob Boyett, FG Productions, John Frost, Corinne Hayoun, Jamie Kaye-Phillips, Scott Landis, Larry Magid, Stephanie P. McClelland, David Mirvish and Daryl Roth
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