By God, it’s a waste of time reviewing a show based on a memoir written by God and based on His personal twitter account. Swear to God, the rabid fans greeting the appearance of Jim Parsons in “An Act of God” like the Second Coming honestly don’t give a damn what critics might have to say about the beloved TV star in this enjoyable but unthreatening comedy. (And if God doesn’t like this review, I can just tell him the Devil made me do it.)
That paragraph alone should bring down the wrath of the character played by Parsons and identified as God in David Javerbaum’s comedy (based on the scribe’s Twitter account, @TheTweetOfGod) since it contains several transgressions against the Sixth Commandment in God’s new-and-improved rule book: Thou shalt not take My name in vain. To which the sinner is entitled to respond: Okay, but Thou shalt not bore me — and the show’s coy opening monologue is deadly.
The central conceit of the comedy is that the non-corporeal Almighty has chosen to manifest Himself in the unprepossessing flesh of the boyish star of “The Big Bang Theory.” Scott Pask’s celestial set, which consists of a white stairway leading up to what looks like the inside of a big blue egg cup, doesn’t have much to say for itself, and Hugh Vanstone’s lighting design is your basic white-on-white. The real source of light here is Parsons, who was most recently on Broadway in “Harvey” and seems to genuinely enjoy doing stage work, God bless him.
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The sheer absurdity of the situation makes the offbeat humor tailor-made for Parsons, a master of the deadpan stare and droll comic delivery. “You’re just lucky I’m the Lord God,” he admonishes latecomers, “and not Patti LuPone.” He’s also insightful about the children’s bedtime prayer “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” pointedly noting that little children should be asking Him for ponies, not an early death. And He takes a well-deserved bow for creating eclipses in order to elicit “awe and panic — my two all-time favorite human emotions.”
But the re-telling of the original creation myth is too blunt and heavy-handed to be considered witty. Transforming the original Eve into a guy named Steve who was “hung like unto a fig tree before the harvest” is sheer pandering. So is the revelation that the serpent is also gay. (“He couldn’t have looked more phallic if he’d had balls for a rattle.”) As for His divine rationale for evolution, most of us acquired more scientifically sound views on that subject just from watching “The Big Bang Theory.”
Having won more than a dozen Emmy Awards for his incisive comedic contributions to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” Javerbaum undeniably knows his territory. But he doesn’t strike his true vein of gold here until he allows the Lord God to introduce His all-new-and-vastly-improved Ten Commandments. There are some real crowd pleasers, like #7: “Thou shalt not tell Me what to do,” as in “Thou shalt not tell Me what to bless, damn, forbid, forsake, or speed, or whose queen to save.”
But several of His directives and the hard-headed rationale for them get to the core of religious cant and hypocrisy. Number 9: “Thou shalt not believe in Me” (because “Your faith will not be rewarded”) is a gem, as is #3: “Thou shalt not kill in My name,” which He considers flattering but patronizing. “I don’t need your help,” He reminds the faithful. “I can kill all by Myself.”
Parsons is such a personable performer that he can hold the floor pretty much on his own, dazzling us with his chatty charm. But for the sake of drama, it’s a relief from pure monologue when the Archangel Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald) challenges the Lord God with tough questions, supposedly suggested by audience members.
“Lord, what about all the evidence for evolution?” gets a rise out of the Almighty, as do confrontations on matters of war and suffering, slavery and injustice. Such provocations cause the wrathful God to repeatedly smite the humanitarian Archangel identified as mankind’s only true friend. But in the end, God finally admits that he allows human suffering because “I’m a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist” — just like the human beings He created in His image. “You are my best creation,” he reminds us, “and I’m your worst.”
Director Joe Mantello has shrewdly intensified the potency of the satire from its affable beginnings, but there’s no probing or sustained debate involved in these brief exchanges. The challenging questions raised by Archangel Michael do save the show from being little more than a clever nightclub act — but just barely.