If you read a review of a movie and then go to the multiplex, you’ll see frame-for-frame exactly what the critic had seen.
Read a review of a sitcom and then watch it, and here too you’ll see precisely what the critic had witnessed.
Those works of art (if you care to call them that) will stay the same now and forever.
That’s not necessarily the case with stage productions. Thus reviews from theater appraisers – a term I prefer to critics, by the way – may well be obsolete the split-second after they’re written.
For the performance that the aisle-sitters see might never q-u-i-t-e be seen again. And while some theater performances disintegrate as time goes on, most of them improve. The actors have the chance night after night to polish them.
This is especially true of regional theaters, which tend to offer less rehearsal time for their shows than Broadway affords. So if you plan to see Kathleen Turner playing no less than God at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, you’ll undoubtedly see a better and more solid performance than we first-nighters experienced.
In AN ACT OF GOD on Friday the 1st, Turner was a lit-tle halting in delivering her lines – especially the first time she mentioned “New Brunswick, New Jersey.” You’d swear from the way she said it that before she arrived in town that she’d never heard of the place.
Turner did, however, finesse her tiny memory lapses and gloss over them extraordinarily well. There’s an excellent chance that some theatergoers in the sold-out house didn’t even notice her more-than occasional hesitations.
Or perhaps they chose not to care. They instead wanted to show her their appreciation for having the good fortune to bask in her glow – the presence of A Bona Fide Star – which Turner is. Two Golden Globes, as well as nominations for one Oscar, two Tonys and two Grammys attest to that.
Once again, they had to be grateful to longtime artistic director David Saint who got her here. (What’s more, he’s directed her in a fine, straightforward and unfussy way.)
So the theatergoers’ headiness of just being in the same room as The Actual Kathleen Turner was first and foremost in their minds and their laugh-producing mouths.
Playwright David Javerbaum’s conceit is that God is talking to us through a human being. So when the play premiered on Broadway in 2015, God had chosen Jim (The Big Bang Theory) Parsons; a year later, Sean (Will & Grace) Hayes was the new mouthpiece. Now He (or is God in fact a She?) has chosen Turner – “a middle-aged, overweight celebrity,” as she describes herself.
Those words alone show that Turner is an excellent sport. When she burst onto the scene in 1981 via Body Heat, plenty of heterosexual men and gay women in the audience had their bodies overheat.
But, as Lorelei Lee sang in a musical of yore, “And we all lose our charms in the end.” Turner saw hers disappear through little fault of her own; rheumatoid arthritis took its toll.
So give the 63-year-old immense credit for wanting to take on this formidable challenge (and far from the glory of Broadway, yet). Although Javerbaum has two archangels (the efficient Jim Walton and Stephen DeRosa) flanking her for most of the night, Turner, in a most elegant muu-muu, does most of the talking for 90 straight intermissionless minutes.
Among the ingredients that Turner definitely had in place on opening night were the authority, imperiousness and entitlement that one would expect from the title character of AN ACT OF GOD.
This is not a play for the overly religious. It’s a wonder that the two Broadway theaters in which AN ACT OF GOD played weren’t severely picketed by the extraordinarily devout. For Javerbaum has God ask “What the hell is wrong with me?” when taking responsibility for the chaos, horror and tragedy that inevitably affects our lives. God’s conclusion: “There IS something seriously wrong with me.” Those who’d be shocked by hearing God admit “I am incompetent” have a greater jolt coming: Javerbaum actually has God say “I am an asshole.”
Much of the time, though, Javerbaum and Turner are playful. Some jokes are so purposely corny that a drummer follows them with rim shots. Other perceptions are imaginative, such as the one that takes athletes to task for praising God for their achievements.
We see that this God has almost – almost — a supreme disinterest in sports. When establishing that God is not a fan of any team, “I’m certainly not a Devil” soon follows. (There are other Jersey jokes, too; the one about Rutgers University is especially good.)
Also amusing is hearing Adam calling God “Dad.” However, those on the religious right won’t be happy to hear about Adam’s first companion. Even those right-of-center might blanch at the outright profanity and the occasional double entendre that pepper the script.
The 1965 film version of Evelyn Waugh’s THE LOVED ONE advertised itself as the movie “with something to offend everyone.” The line could also serve AN ACT OF GOD. Jews may not be pleased to have God firmly establish that Jesus was the Son of God. Catholics may rankle when God calls Christ “a pussy.” (Well, fathers are often disappointed in their sons.)
Some may ultimately feel that Javerbaum wavers on what he wants to say. For after God insists that “The Bible is 100% accurate” he starts debunking The Good Books’ Greatest Hits: Noah didn’t take all those animals on the ark, God admits, before explaining why the logistics would be impossible.
No, Javerbaum seems more interested in having God go to confession. Remember JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG where four high-ranking Nazi officials had to try to defend themselves? AN ACT OF GOD could be thought of as a playful JUDGMENT AT NEW BRUNSWICK.
Javerbaum does make room for some fire-and-brimstone talk that one might anticipate from an angry God. These damnations come across very well through Turner’s famous gravel-tinged voice – that is, when she’s able to deliver them without worrying if she just got that last line right.
No matter. Turner will be doing AN ACT OF GOD through Dec. 23rd. Even before then, her performance as God should be divine.