Review: Alley Theatre’s “An Act of God”

We all know the Ten Commandments – or do we? God has taken up residency at the Alley Theatre and he has a few things on his omnipotent mind in this irreverent and hilarious one-act play.

God has decided to visit Earth by inhabiting the body of Alley Theatre resident company favorite Todd Waite. He’s brought two angels with him – Gabriel and Michael, played by Alley resident company members John Feltch and Emily Trask, respectively. Over the course of the 80 minute show, God waxes philosophical on subjects from creation to homosexuality, the “true” story of some Bible passages and even tackles some of the tough questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Which came first – the chicken or the egg?” God also introduces us to his revised Ten Commandments, which he spends the bulk of the show explaining while adding humorous and sometimes shocking anecdotes.

The answers to these questions are often hilarious but also frequently contain darker or thought-provoking undertones. The angels take “questions” from the audience, the play’s clever way of provoking God into answering some of the tougher queries that most humans have. David Javerbaum’s clever script allows for many local and current events references, which make this play seem like it was written yesterday and just for Houston audiences. Alley favorite James Black directed this production and while much of it could be considered “over the top” in the best way, there is a restraint and some interesting choices that bring a surprising subtlety and humanity to the piece. This is a good play on paper, but in the hands of superior actors, it rises to a level that brings out layers that would never be found in most regional or local productions. The show benefits from a creative team that is all local, including the entire cast, stage crew and design team. The intimate Neuhaus Stage is the perfect setting for this 80 minute show.

“An Act of God” is similar to the musical “The Book of Mormon” in the sense that it turns religion on its ear and does so with some hilarious and often shocking ideas. But in the end, like “Mormon” this is a show about being the best that you can be, regardless of what you believe. At the artist talkback following my performance, we learned that there have been a few walk-outs, including a hilarious story from Todd Waite where someone walked across the stage to leave during the show, only to drop their cellphone while leaving. “God” then ad-libbed the line, “Well, isn’t karma a bitch!” Counterpoint to the walk-outs, one deeply religious woman who attended the talkback told us that at first she expected the show to offend but then realized that she needed to loosen up a bit and not take things so seriously. So the message each audience member takes away may vary greatly.

One more note from the talkback: One of the conceits of the show, as mentioned earlier, is the fact that “God” is inhabiting the body of the lead actor (Todd Waite in this case). This point is clearly (I thought) illustrated at both the beginning and the clever end of the play. However, at least two people at the talkback made suggestions that his “costume” was not correct. I often wonder how people can see the subtext of a piece so clearly and yet miss the most obvious plot point in the whole evening. Thankfully, we did not get the obligatory “What was the play about?” question at last night’s talkback.

Personally I did find a couple of moments of the show to be a bit uncomfortable but they were also the most thought-provoking parts. And that’s what good theatre does – it entertains but also begins a dialogue.

***1/2 out of *****
“An Act of God”
By David Javerbaum
Directed by James Black
Alley Theatre
Now through April 16th
Tickets: www.alleytheatre.org
Photo: Emily Trask as Michael, Todd Waite as God and John Feltch as Gabriel in “An Act of God” at the Alley Theatre

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