Saturday, April 2, 2016

"An Act of God"


An Act of God
David Javerbaum


Sean Hayes as God
Declaring, “Tonight I have chosen to appear in the form of hallowed star of film and stage Sean Hayes (a description neither smiling Sean nor the cheering audience seemed at all interested in disputing), God has decided to plop himself “right here in the Tenderloin’s glamor of San Francisco” for the next couple of weeks.  Noting that this is his first time back in Northern California “since that business trip in 1906,” God has come to give us an update to the Ten Commandments.  (“I’ve grown weary of them in the same way Don McLean grew weary of “American Pie.”)  In the next ninety minutes, God -- aka Sean Hayes -- is going to bring a packed SHN Golden Gate Theatre audience precariously close to collective rapture as they laugh and marvel at David Javerbaum’s joke-and-wisdom-filled An Act of God.

In flowing robes of white that lift to reveal his divine tennies of blue, Sean Hayes clearly has the adoration of his S.F. followers that even God could envy.  He also has whimsical charm, chatty nature, and endearing expressions that make his God someone anyone would want to meet and listen for an eternity.  He is not past leaning forward with a devilish look of “I shouldn’t, but I will” and sharing a bit of “God-sip” with the 2000+ of us about some current fly-by star like Brittney Spears or Justin Beiber.  And like any gay man playing God, he most definitely can get his feathers ruffled and quite indignantly ticked off, striking with a drag queen’s vengeance at any attempt to take him off his planned script(ure).  (I don’t think his Archangel Michael will ever ask again the question about “But do you ever answer people’s prayers?”)  As God, Sean Hayes never misses an opportunity to convince any skeptical non-believer that he is definitely a brilliant comedian, a compelling storyteller, and an all-around good guy with captivating stage presence.  The result is that every person leaves with a feeling of a true personal relationship with this God, having been touched by his humanity and his humor.

Sean Hayes
The genius of David Javerbaum’s script plays out in a number of dimensions.  He gives hilarious new twists to old stories (“I called him Adam to give him a leg-up alphabetically”).  We learn some of the inner nuances of his holiness (“Awe and panic are two of my all time emotions”).  He gives us new ways of looking at God’s well-known traits of all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present (with God/Sean letting us know with raised eyebrows and pointing finger that he sees much more than we might imagine behind our closed bedroom doors or when we sit alone in front of computer screens locked in on a porn site).  Local color of the venue and current events of the week are comically woven just enough into the set script to make the audience feel like this show is just for us. 

But beyond just these many twists and turns of heavenly and earthly humor, what sets this script apart is how Mr. Javerbaum grabs us in the middle of a laugh and says in essence, “Pay attention; I am making an important point here.”  God’s announced changes in the Big Ten, for example, strike at the heart of societal issues like wars in the name of religion, legislating sexual mores between consenting couples, and the rights of children.  His script calls to question some of our daily practices in commanding God what to do (“God forbid, “God bless”) and asks why we insist on believing in God over believing in ourselves.  As David Javerbaum related in a post-show interview, a lot of soul-searching thought (as well as a host of jokes used and tossed) comprised his years of writing the play as well as the book on which the play is based.  (“That was the hardest thing I have ever undertaken,” he admitted with a serious but satisfied air.)  As any one sitting in the audience can attest, all his effort definitely has paid off.

James Gleason, Sean Hayes & David Josefsberg
An Act of God is basically a one-person show (and why shouldn’t it be, given he is the one and only, as his retained first commandment so clearly states).  Two archangels act as his sidekicks with not a lot to do, especially Gabriel (the mostly serious and subdued James Gleason), who spends the show behind a side podium once in a while reading a scripture verse or a new commandment.  David Josefsberg’s Michael is a bit more active, roaming the audience for pre-determined questions to be asked from unsuspecting members and increasingly pushing God with his own always-wanted-to-know questions.  The two do join God as chorus boys in a finale song that is frankly a letdown in its humor and quality of delivery quotients when compared to the rest of the evening.

A long staircase climbing to a heaven of gloriously moving clouds engulfed by immense white concentric circles that change colors (part of Hugh Vanstone’s excellent lighting effects) to match the story and mood is the work of Scenic Designer Scott Pask.  Fitz Patton’s heralding sounds bring celestial ambiance, and David Zinn has assured God and angels are dressed in the latest of whites and wings.

Row the boat ashore, Michael; and blow, Gabriel, blow because SHN has scored a heavenly hit in bringing Sean Hayes to town in David Josefberg’s headed-back-to-Broadway An Act of God.

Rating:  4 E

An Act of God continues through April 17 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at www.shnsf.com, by phone at 888-746-1799 or in person at the box office, Tuesday – Saturday, noon – 8:30 or Sunday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Photo Credit: Jim Cox

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