By Larry Laneer
August 28, 2018
Fans of the actress Brenda Williams (count me among them) have reason to shout hallelujah. At last, she appears in a role worthy of her talent, experience, and stature in the theatrical world. She is now playing God.
You can see this theological and theatrical phenomenon in the pleasant-enough play An Act of God by David Javerbaum, which opens Pollard Theatre Company’s 32nd season. Timothy Stewart directs the production. The play will make both believers and non-believers feel comforted and uncomfortable.
To say Williams plays God isn’t quite right. The play’s conceit is God has taken over the body of our beloved actress Brenda Williams and has come to the Pollard Theatre in Guthrie, Oklahoma, with a few things to say to audiences who gather there. (And Williams doesn’t even know this is happening!) At times in language that would make a preacher blush, God offers some explanations and clarifications and makes some revisions. Through this process, we get to know him better. It turns out God is a left-of-center progressive on issues of the day, including guns, abortion, and the LGBTQ community, among others. He has the same self-doubts and insecurities we all have. But as God says, and this is an important point of the play, “Belief and faith are no excuses for abandoning sound judgment.” Javerbaum was a writer on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which explains a lot about his version of God.
The play consists mainly of a monologue for the actor inhabited by God (the television actor Jim Parsons played the part in the 2015 Broadway production). God gets assistance from angels Gabriel (James A. Hughes) and Michael (Dakota Muckelrath).
Theatergoers will not be surprised at Williams’s command of the stage. She has done the one-woman tour-de-force The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe at the Pollard and elsewhere. Williams completely captures the playwright’s view of God as divine but flawed. Hughes and Muckelrath do fine jobs as angels who are sycophantic and insubordinate.
The production comes off both solid and out of kilter. Michael James costumes God in a tasteful two-toned white robe with a subtle gold lining. The angels appear in white suits with wings. Hughes, who plays Gabriel, also did the scenic design (this doubling happens often with PTC), but it doesn’t jibe with Javerbaum’s script. The multilevel set depicts billowing clouds against a blue sky. In other words, the heaven cliché. But the play is supposed to be taking place in Guthrie’s Pollard Theatre where God has come in the body of Brenda Williams. It’s not supposed to be Pollard Theatre Company doing a play set it heaven. It seems to me a bare stage would be more faithful (no pun intended) to the script.
God gets prickly with some of Michael’s questioning. Why does God let bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people? Why the Holocaust? Why not just get rid of child cancer? It won’t be revealed here, but the playwright comes up with God’s cogent answer that makes theological sense. It might even make you say amen.
|An Act of God by David Javerbaum
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p..m. Fridays-Saturdays, through September 8
2:00 p.m. Sunday, September 2
8:00 p.m. Thursday, September 6
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie