‘An Act of God’—a truly ‘Divine’ comedy

From left: Michael Cassidy Flynn, Alan Knoll and Amanda Wales perform in ‘An Act of God’ at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Thank God that we live in a nation in which our Constitution empowers us with freedom of speech and press, and where a hilariously funny play literally tests whether or not the Almighty can take a joke.

The New Jewish Theatre’s glorious production of “An Act of God” humorously asks some fundamental questions: Why do bad things happen to good people? And was the universe really created in just six days? 

Edward Coffield, in his first season as artistic director of the NJT, brings his own sardonic comedic sensitivity to skillfully direct the three-member cast play, written by David Javerbaum, a former comedy writer of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” The play runs 90 minutes without intermission, but its rapid pace on the simple set designed by Josh Smith races by, leaving the audience wanting more one-liners from none other than God.

{{tncms-inline content=”<p><span><strong>WHEN: </strong></span><span>Through Dec. 16</span></p> <p><span><strong>WHERE: </strong></span><span>New Jewish Theatre’s Wool Studio Theater in the Jewish Community Center’s Arts & Education Building, 2 Millstone Campus Drive</span></p> <p><span><strong>HOW MUCH: </strong></span><span>$42-$45</span></p> <p><span><strong>MORE INFO: </strong></span><span>Visit newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283</span></p>” id=”033b624c-2aaf-4a5d-80be-81f0b193776a” style-type=”info” title=”‘An Act of God’” type=”relcontent”}}

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Coffield was drawn to the Javerbaum’s script because it reminded him of the 1977 film “Oh, God,” which starred George Burns. When Coffield saw the film for the first time at the age of 14, he “hoped God was like George Burns,” an avuncular Jewish man, almost 100 years old, who used his limitless powers to create a kinder, gentler world.

Putting on the ultimate costume of the Creator for the play is veteran actor Alan Knoll, an award-winning performer who has shown equal ability in both serious drama and in “An Act of God,” which explores serious—even cosmic—themes, but with a pitch-perfect sense of comic timing.

Knoll’s God is more of a curmudgeonly Divine Presence than Burns’ kindly and thoughtful Deity.

Knoll’s timing is on a par with the best of the stand-up comics of the past and present, alternating among Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. Accompanying Knoll on the heavenly stage are two well-cast Archangels, Michael (Michael Cassidy Flynn) and Gabriel (Amanda Wales). 

In addition to its comedic qualities, “An Act of God” reflects a good working knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, with some references to the New Testament thrown in.  God is asked about his relationship with Jesus, and He explains Jesus’s behavior by noting that he was “a middle child.” 

Is God capable of finding the humor and grandeur in the Works of His Hands? In the play God admits He got carried away with the number of stars He created. “I was bored, and wanted to do some real God-ing,” says Knoll in his best “Voice of God” tones.

The script takes the audience through the six days of creation, including an explanation as to why God positioned the sun and the moon in such a way as to cause eclipses, which enhanced his “brand” as the Eternal Ruler of the Universe.

When one of the Angels challenges God about the existence of fossil evidence of life on earth far older than 4004 BCE, when the Creation is supposed to take place, “I planted all of those fossils,” God says. “I even booked Darwin’s cruise.”

He also notes that he can send scientists who disagree directly to Hell. God takes note of His famous bet with Satan to test the faithfulness of his exemplary and righteous person, Job. When the questioning gets too tough, Knoll as God says in a booming voice, “Where were you when I laid down the foundations of the earth?”

“An Act of God” is irreverent, but falls far short of being outright blasphemous — even though it could not be produced in nations like Pakistan (which actually has capital crimes for insulting the Deity).

Early in our Bible, when God informs Sarah that she will bear a son even though she is already 90 years old, she is described as having laughed to herself. When she did give birth to Isaac, she named him Yitzhak, which means “laughter.”

And laughter is what “An Act of God” delivers throughout. Put it on your must-see list for the holiday season; for God’s sake, treat yourself to the healing power of humor well-delivered.

For another take on the play, read Judy Newmark’s blog, online at stljewishlight.com/Judy.