Let’s just say it right away: Lynnette R. Freeman is spectacular. Even if she weren’t playing an incarnation of God, this woman would own the stage; being the Divinity Herself is just the frosting on the cake. And that’s what we get in An Act of God, David Javerbaum’s comedy pressing a hard reset on the Ten Commandments and other celestial proclamations: God incarnated in an African American woman with extremely strong opinions.
Freeman steps effortlessly into a role originated on Broadway by The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons and reprised by Will and Grace’s Sean Hayes, barely getting a pause for breath in the whole 90 minutes of the play’s duration and making it look easy. Or, if you’d prefer, divine. She’s elegant, she’s funny, she has stamina and charisma and “curves that rival my greatest hills and valleys.”
Every deity needs assistants, and they’re present here as the archangels Gabrielle (Alexandra Lemus) and Michael (David Meyers), one of them playing a sidekick/admin while the other reflects the worst parts of daytime talk shows. It’s Michael who gets to ask God humanity’s most pressing questions, from whether or not the chicken preceded the egg, to why something should be created out of nothingness (“I was bored,” God confesses), to why bad things happen to good people.
The audience is treated to a game-show reworking of the Ten Commandments and a whirlwind tour of history, starting in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Steve are finding things pretty much to their liking but something goes terribly wrong at the fruit course of dinner (“Thou hast ruined everything!” God spits at the serpent). Much of the play feels like it could be stand-up comedy, and for good reason: Javerbaum was a writer and executive producer for The Daily Show, developing the current play first—in very 21st-century style—as Twitter rants from the Almighty. His God is hip, witty, and sardonic, with increasingly mordant revisions to the religious canon as the play progresses.
Director Daisy Walker quickens the pace as the observations become more topical for a 2018 audience, living as we do in an age of alternative facts when the U.S. president calls himself Christian and the Religious Right claims moral ascendency over anyone who disagrees with it. The new-and-improved seventh commandment, for example, attacks those whose caring for others is limited to thoughts and prayers: “Thou shalt not tell me what to do. Thou shalt not tell me what to bless, damn, forbid, forsake, or speed, or whose queen to save,” adding, “tell your money to trust someone else!”
God considers wars fought in her name to be both flattering and patronizing—“I don’t need your help. I can kill all by myself”—and assures us that she really has no interest in the outcome of any sporting event.
While it’s tempting to dwell on the plethora of one-liners, An Act of God is far more than an interlude of comic relief. Behind the laughter, it’s a deeply serious play: in the background of the (literal) rim-shots and the glamour, God is critically questioning her own actions and motives. It’s no surprise the world has gone astray when humanity is created in the image of “a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist.”
Walker has a deft touch with this potentially oppressive material, delivering it so lightly that it’s only afterward one stops and thinks about what’s been said. She saves Lemus and Meyers from the potentially caricatural nature of their roles by stressing their youth and puppy-like devotion and enthusiasm, and Lemus in particular is nothing short of adorable. Ellen Rousseau’s set is understated but sophisticated—one sees this particular incarnation of the Almighty very at home here, with an elegant sofa-and-chair ensemble and a girly dressing-table—and the lighting by Patricia Nichols is as ethereal as one could want.
But, again, it’s really Freeman’s show, and she has grasped—and communicates—the complexities of maintaining faith when living on the edge of a dying empire. “You’re my greatest creation,” she tells the audience, a little sadly, “and I’m your worst.”
But she’s very, very good at it.
An Act of God
July 25-August 17
Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater
2357 State Highway Route 6, Wellfleet MA 02667