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In the chapter “Sacred Word, Profane Image” in her book Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices, author Ella Shohat writes, “Although according to the Bible God made man in his own image, a few films have projected God in man’s image, making casting an unusually difficult task,” citing portrayals of the Supreme Being by George Burns, Vittorio de Sica, Robert Mitchum, Morgan Freeman, Alanis Morissette, and others. David Javerbaum’s devilishly funny new Broadway comedy, An Act of God, addresses that right at the outset, as Jim Parsons descends from the heavens to take a seat on a couch and chat with the audience. “I reside in all forms, yet my essence is formless, for I transcend all dualities, including that of form and formlessness,” God (Parsons) explains. “Yet tonight I have chosen to appear in form; specifically that of beloved television star Jim Parsons. For lo, I have endowed him with a winning, likable personality; and know of a certainty that your apprehension of My depthless profundities will be aided by his offbeat charm. And then, the irony of him starring in a show called The Big Bang Theory . . . I just couldn’t resist.” For the next ninety minutes, a primarily relaxed, easygoing Almighty presents a revised and updated version of the Ten Commandments for the twenty-first century, with the help of archangels Gabriel (Tim Kazurinsky) and Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald). While Gabriel reads passages from the Bible, Michael roams the audience, taking questions, starting out with innocuous queries but quickly getting into much larger metaphysical and existential matters of the universe as God addresses slavery, abortion, evolution, homosexuality, prayer, the Holocaust, incest, masturbation, Noah, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, the history of Studio 54, and cell phones, all with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But as charming and friendly as he can be, this God can also show his wrath when necessary.
Just as former Daily Show head writer Javerbaum’s book on which the play is based, The Last Testament: With 100 Top Tweets from @TheTweetOfGod, was billed as “A Memoir by God,” An Act of God is “A One-God Show” starring the Supreme Being Himself; He even gets His own paragraph in the Playbill, identifying Him as the Creator and pointing out that this “is His first work written directly for the stage.” Emmy winner Parsons, who dealt with another imaginary figure on Broadway in 2012 when he starred as Elwood P. Dowd in the Roundabout revival of Harvey, in which his character has a giant invisible rabbit for a best friend, is appealing and charismatic as the Lord, wearing sneakers with his long white robe and pushing the merch. He has the audience eating out of the palms of his hands from the get-go, and it willingly gives him the benefit of the doubt even when the script gets too clever for its own good or plays too fast and loose with some very serious subjects. SNL vet Kazurinsky (Police Academy) and two-time Tony nominee Fitzgerald (Finian’s Rainbow, Young Frankenstein) are fine foils for Parsons, the former standing steadfastly at his podium, worshiping his Bible, the latter moving about like Phil Donahue or Jerry Springer, ultimately angering his boss when demanding deeper insight. Tony-winning director Joe Mantello (Airline Highway, Other Desert Cities) maintains a graceful pace on Tony favorite Scott Pask’s (Pal Joey, The Book of Mormon) elegant set, highlighted by a staircase leading up to the stars (and evoking the Merrie Melodies logo), where Peter Nigrini’s projections add an extra touch. The breezy show might not quite answer the questions of the universe that have perplexed humankind throughout the centuries, but An Act of God is a wickedly sinful way to laugh your head off at the foibles of our modern-day, religion-crazed culture, where even the Almighty can be a celebrity.