Those right-wing fundamentalist Christians who picketed Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi in 1998 may soon be congregating in front of Studio 54.
An Act of God, despite the presence of beloved TV star Jim Parsons, will give the super-devout plenty of opportunities to become incensed. If any of them attend, they’ll be choking in outrage long before the show’s ninety-minute running time has passed.
This play has something to offend everyone, for it offers swipes at Christians, Jews and – for one brief moment — Muslims. Interesting, isn’t it, that playwright David Javerbaum gives that culture only a passing criticism? No, he’s not taking any chances – especially because he seems to believe that God doesn’t even help those who help themselves. If we rely on God, Javerbaum reasons, we won’t be helped, because God – frankly – doesn’t give a good Goddamn.
Religious people or even grammarians may take issue with my referring to God as “he” with a lower-case “h.” That may be more fitting, for Parsons states flat out that the person we see in front of us is not God, but the actual star who’s spent the last eight years playing Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. God is just using Jim Parsons’ body as a vessel. Under these circumstances, I say that God is a he.
It’s not a one-person show. God has “my wingmen,” the Archangels Michael (the underused Christopher Fitzgerald) and Gabriel (the much-underused Tim Kazurinsky). Just as the New Testament talks about that “good thief” and “bad thief” who surrounded Jesus on the cross, Gabriel fully accepts God at face value while Michael constantly questions him. God’s response is to Michael is an unleashing of his terrible swift sword.
The zealously religious might wince when Michael even dares to question God, but more liberal minds will think that the angel asks pretty good questions and makes some salient points. And yet, God will eventually make his audience look at dogma in a literal, rational and intelligent way. Only the most close-minded who will not open themselves up to facts and reason will continue to believe that the religious dogma holds up. God doesn’t quite go so far to call the Bible “lies,” but he does have a euphemism that means much the same thing.
Taking away the religious agenda, Javerbaum writes sharply enough. Most of his many puns are fine, but when a writer dispenses this type of wordplay, only a matter of time will pass before an unfortunate pun gets a groan. God is forgiven, however, when he gets in a good line about the Kardashians.
Parsons sits with ease, with his left arm stretched out and lolling on the back of a couch. He gives God that slightly bored look that celebrities have when they’re out in public and aren’t particularly interested in anyone around them. One of the few times he cracks a smile is when he mentions a right-wing Republican.
The star is particularly adept in how he plays with the audience, singling out various theatergoers and quipping to latecomers, although he’s not nearly as critical or judgmental as Dame Edna Everage is in such situations.
Even so, this role could cause Parsons to lose many fans. Some people who hear God’s letting out a few strong profanities won’t be amused. Many will be scandalized not merely because he uses the vulgarism for anus, but mostly because he uses it describe himself.
He even questions his own sanity and also admits that he’s jealous, racist and sexist. God is unapologetically blasé when mentioning that he created rape, child abuse and slavery. Add to these human suffering, injustice, death, children who die from cancer, the Holocaust and 9/11. When Parsons mentions these, his God almost sounds as if he’s bragging.
All those rules, regulations, tenets and beliefs that Fundamentalists obey and even revere are no laughing matter to these people. So how will they react when Parsons attacks the clichéd rationalizations: “God never gives you more that you can handle.” Yeah, tell that to a recent quadriplegic.
Coming in for some harsh scrutiny is Leviticus, that writer whom so many take as Gospel. (Maybe he was just a guy writing editorials who knew the editor of the Bible.) Certainly Javerbaum’s revisionist Biblical history – especially some good questions about Noah — will feel like a belt across the face to Bible Belters.
So will his statements that “Theologians have been completely wrong” … “I’m your worst creation” … “You don’t need me anymore” … “You’re better off without me.” Yet the statement that may cause pickets, protests and – God forbid – worse is “Belief and faith are no replacement for sound judgment.”
Some will have had enough when he reveals how he plays with people the way disturbed children torture ants. His allusions to having had sex with the Blessed Virgin Mary won’t get big laughs from everyone. Perhaps most will be furious in the way he treats the Holocaust in cavalier fashion. Even an expert comedian such as Parsons has a hard time getting laughs in the sequence that’s supposed to spur guffaws over the Crucifixion. He insults Jesus and also can’t explain the meaning behind the statement “Christ died on the cross for our sins.” But who can?
No, Javerbaum is certainly not God-fearing. If all the religious dogma that’s been put forth lo these long millennia turns out to be true, there’s a cell in hell reserved for him. Perhaps that’s why in the last five minutes he tries to extract himself from criticism by giving us a God who’s the God we wish we had.
Religions haven’t traditionally been famous for their sense of humor. Back in 1968, when the Catholic Church’s film evaluators saw The Producers and The Odd Couple, they condemned them. Condemned! True, that was almost a half-century ago, but the church prides itself in taking its time in making changes. It won’t want to make one in the case of An Act of God.
Many a mindless and escapist play has over the years asked audiences to “check your brains at the door.” This one wants you to hold onto them while leaving your faith (if you have any to begin with) in the coatroom. Javerbaum doesn’t specifically note that “An Act of God” is a term that’s always been used to describe something terrible, but in this case, that’s precisely what it will be for many.