Review: ‘An Act of God’ at the Golden Gate Theatre (****)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Sean Hayes, as God, takes a selfie with two archangels ((James Gleason and David Josefsberg). Photo Credit: Jim Cox.
Sean Hayes, as God, takes a selfie with archangels Gabriel (James Gleason) and Michael (David Josefsberg). Photo Credit: Jim Cox.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Sean Hayes is not the first comedian to take on the role of the Almighty. Among his predecessors are the great George Burns, Groucho Marx, and Whoopee Goldberg. But he may have the best script.

According to the producers, it was written by none other than God Himself, but they admit the original text has been adapted by David Javerbaum, Emmy-winning writer for The Jon Stewart show.

Now, I’ve read the Bible, God’s most famous work, and it just isn’t that funny. So, I will risk His wrath by asserting that I suspect Mr. Javerbaum may have considerably improved on the original script.

The premise of the play is simple: God has decided to revise the Ten Commandments and we theatre goers are privy to the unveiling of the new version, accompanied by God’s own commentary. And, to add to the excitement, God is assisted by Archangel Michael who wanders through the audience with a microphone, reading the minds of selected persons (only in the more expensive seats, of course) and reporting their questions to The Lord. A second archangel, Gabriel, is along for the ride as an announcer, a kind of Ed McMahon to God’s Johnny.

The jokes are fast, funny, witty, and topical, but not unexpected. What raises this event way above the level of sketch comedy is the polished perfection of Hayes’s performance. He is an excellent comedian, with the comic timing of the very best. I was reminded of Groucho, Jack Benny, George Burns, and the great Paul Lynde. I contend that the best comic actors, no matter how charmingly seductive their personalities, create essentially aggressive characters with a mean streak which they cover up with humor. This is obviously true of, say, W. C. Fields and Groucho Marx; arguably true of Jack Benny and even George Burns, and I suppose Charlie Chaplin is the rare exception to prove the rule.

The point is that Hayes’s performance has all the silliness you could want, but also a core of steel that gives it a sharp edge. There is an hilarious and disturbing sequence in which Hayes’s God giggles His way through the boast that the Book of Job is His funniest work and proves the point with a plot summary while archangels Michael and Gabriel stand by in shock.

Hayes also has the benefit of an outstanding team. First, there is excellent direction by the Emmy winning actor and Tony-award winning director Joe Mantello, who offers effective stage pictures, varied rhythms, and surprises us with moments of emotional depth. Then, all of the design elements from sets and lights to costumes, projections and special effects, are witty and polished. The two supporting actors, James Gleason (Archangel Gabriel) and David Josefsberg (Archangel Michael) are as funny as can be.

“An Act of God” was a success last year with a limited Broadway run featuring a different cast. The current touring production will be back on Broadway next month for a limited return engagement. I predict another rousing success and would not be surprised if Sean Hayes garners his second Tony nomination, and perhaps even a win.

You won’t be disappointed if you make the pilgrimage to the Golden Gate Theatre to see “An Act of God.”

“An Act of God” continues through April 17 at the Golden Gate Theatre. For further information, click here

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“An Act of God” by God (adapted by David Javerbaum), presented by SHN. Director: Joe Mantello. Scenic Design: Scott Pask. Costume Design: David Zinn. Sound Design: Fitz Patton. Projection Design: Peter Negrini. Special Effects Design: Gregory Meer. 

Cast:

God: Sean Hayes. Michael: David Josefsberg. Gabriel: James Gleason. 

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