Los Angeles Theater Review: AN ACT OF GOD (Ahmanson Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on February 12, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles

EVEN GOD CAN’T SAVE THIS FROM ITSELF

Dear God (if I may quote Alice Walker):

What’s going on with the theater these days? Oh, that’s right, you already know. In fact, you’re appearing on stage at the Ahmanson in the guise of TV’s Will & Grace star Sean Hayes, whose name actually is placed over your name on the poster (doesn’t that just say it all?). But you know all of this, don’t you? Or do you? Well, if you are the all-knowing, all-seeing God, consider this a rhetorical letter. If you don’t exist at all, consider this a cry for help to the darkness.

Photo 5-L

This one-trick-pony of a show has the the affable Mr. Hayes playing himself possessed by you. Aided by two angels — Gabriel, a passive Commandment reader (James Gleason), and Michael, a questioning audience roamer (David Josefsberg) — you (You?) have come to us to deliver a new set of 10 commandments, including one which notes, “Thou Shalt Not Tell Others Whom To Fornicate.” Between the casting of Hayes and you telling us how you did, in fact, create Adam and Steve, this essentially one-man play is more pro-gay than, well, the theater world in general.

Photo 4-LAdapting from his book The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, erstwhile Daily Show head-writer David Javerbaum offers no shortage of rimshots and ruminations. Clearly, there is some fun to be had (I especially liked the update on the story of Noah), but Javerbaum misses the mark in offering profundity and searingly sidesplitting puns — both of which he attempts.

Director Joe Mantello has Hayes sitting on a center-stage settee for most of the 90-minute talkfest, so while the Divine divan stays firm, the show sags. Even had Mantello steered Hayes to gaily skip about the stage, it wouldn’t have helped for two reasons. First, Hayes is a silly presence, and certainly not commanding. In the too-often-to-mention moments that my mind wandered, I imagined other great comics taking on this role (Jim Parsons played You on Broadway): Paul Lynde, Eve Arden, and — especially since Hayes/God castigates latecomers — Don Rickles. But, boy oh boy, Hayes does a great impression of a hissssssssing snake.

The other reason this is ultimately a shoulder-shrugging show is Javerbaum’s unwillingness (or inability) to either touch our hearts or make Your story current with topics that desperately need to be discussed on the stage. Does the show use humor to plumb the depths of our world’s greatest threats, namely overpopulation and endless consumption, a combination which has hastened pollution, greed and terrorism? No, instead it’s a liberally slanted dishfest in which Hayes-as-God offers off-and-on comedy and superficial quips such as, “I hate Sarah Palin.” I mean, I hate her, too. But, along with mentioning Justin Bieber and others, it’s a cheap shot. It is precisely this sort of diatribe that keeps earthbound what could have been a heavenly experience.

Photo 2-LIt certainly would have helped if we were served martinis such as the one Hayes sips on. This is a show which belongs in an intimate club where drinks can be ordered and we can take a break to stretch our legs. It’s actually a sin that folks pay up to $130 a pop to see this silliness. How much longer will the public shell out clams like this for a few snorts ‘n’ chuckles? Even with a well-lit, glitzy, talk-show set that resembles a cross between the Hollywood Bowl and the gun barrel sequence from a James Bond film (Scott Pask, sets, Hugh Vanstone, lights), no one can deny that this belongs in a Fringe Festival as a one-hour show for fifteen bucks. Nothing wrong with that. But apparently, this is the cast size that theater can afford to produce right now: There’s a one-person show now playing at the Geffen (Thom Pain (based on nothing)), one which just closed at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey), and one opening soon at the Ruskin (A Gambler’s Guide to Dying). While one-person shows can be astounding (Pelkey was one), it’s getting a little out of hand.

I know I’m not supposed to ask you for anything God, but if you DO come to L.A. to deliver new commandments, how about, “Thou Shall Not Lie, Withhold Truth And Make a Living Off Of Self-Deception.”

Photo 1-Lphotos by Jim Cox

An Act of God
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave
ends on March 13, 2016
for tickets, call 213.972.4400 or visit CTG

then plays Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco
March 29-April 17, 2016
for tickets, visit SHNSF

then returns to the Booth on Broadway
opens May 2, 2016
for tickets, call 212.239.6200 or visit Telecharge

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Henry Merkharian April 4, 2016 at 9:44 am

Wow, just read your review for Sean Hayes play, An Act of God…clearly you’re a religious zealot who’s hyper sensitive anyone would dare mock your fairy tale fantasies in the sky. The only thing I walked away with after reading your obnoxious review is that you went into that theater as a faith based individual LOOKING to be offended and got exactly what you wanted out of it. “liberally” …”too gay”….really? You review plays for a living. Tone down the internalized homophobia pal. Glad Sean’s play river danced with your last good nerve. Small minds like you are the exact kind of people who need to hear about Adam and Steve, and Jenny and Lori, and a plethora of other gay couples in campy plays that make you cringe. That’s the whole point. He accomplished his mission and gave my husband and I a lovely evening at the theater.

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Tony Frankel April 4, 2016 at 11:02 am

When you’re ready to discuss this play as a work of art, Henry, do let me know. In the meantime, thank you for answering my query, “How much longer will the public shell out clams like this for a few snorts ‘n’ chuckles?” Apparently, audience members want their agenda articulated for all to see. So, when a TV star validates that agenda, you’re willing to pay an egregious sum to do so (must be that disposable income I’ve heard so much about). Forget about stupid stuff like, ya know, dramaturgy and direction.

Now I know why this silly show is only playing in Los Angeles and San Francisco and then moving back to Broadway, where the minimum ticket price is $99 (for the back row of the theater) to $149 — with premium seats at $249!!

So, people need to see this play to open up their small minds? Really? I can assure you that members of ISIS will not be attending An Act of God anytime soon. If you want people to get it about Adam and Steve, get off your lazy facebooking ass and bring global activism back to life.

I do happen to be gay, you dingbat, and my husband attended with me, and we both love camp, I have nothing against fluff, and (as I stated in the review) I hate Sarah Palin and her conservative ilk. But unlike you, I happen to be a gay man who is discerning.

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Bobby C. April 7, 2016 at 2:44 am

Calling gay rights “gay agenda” is conservative lingo 101. Lost all respect for you and this blog, and will discontinue reading. I’d love to see you call the racial minorities you so often uplift in your pieces a “race agenda” when you review shows with black themes. You are a hypocrite and as noted above, indeed ignorant. Oh, and you hardly have any following. On Facebook when I followed you, your posts only attained maybe one ‘like’ and I can now see why.

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Marcus Leonijer April 7, 2016 at 9:00 am

Just so everyone is updated, Tom Frankel thinks a play that’s affirming of gays is the ‘gay agenda’ at work. Consider your source before reading his commentary. Or better yet, find a less small minded writer who doesn’t box gay people as having some calculating agenda when it comes to any piece that isn’t homophobic. Tom showing his age and ignorance, what’s new?

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Ezra Buzzington April 7, 2016 at 9:56 am

Girls, please. Calm the fuck down. A critic calling out a shallowly constructed play that only shrieks “gay’s good!” from the top of the overly-priced theatrical rafters is not slipping a roofie into your cosmo. (Are those still the drink of choice for the gays? I’ll ask Andy Cohen. He knows all things shallow.) Tony Frankel is one of LA’s best critics. He’s analytical, unbiased, truthful and holds our stages to a higher theatrical standard than, say, rabid fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Have you noticed Ru always wears the same dress but in a different color?) Not everything is an attack on you or your rights, Mary. Get a grip on your Jimmy Choos, fire up Grindr and watch your Tivo’d episodes of Ellen. Oh, and stay out of the theatre. You’re not ready for big boy pants yet.

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Rick Green April 7, 2016 at 10:45 am

I also saw the show with my partner and I appreciated the positive gay agenda. I really enjoy Sean Hayes and was looking forward to the show. Sadly I also quickly became disappointed. I have no problem with Adam and Steve but the joke has been around since I can remember. I found myself trying to laugh but wasn’t really that amused. The play itself shared my feeling and beliefs, but it wasn’t put out there in a new or interesting way. My partner also found it rather boring. I agree with Tony, just because you agree with an author, doesn’t make their play a success. At those prices I need more than mediocre.

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Jason Rohrer April 13, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Marcus, Bobby, Henry: I was Tony’s housemate for years, and if there’s a gayer man it must be his husband Jeff. Your wholly uninformed political response to an arts & culture review reveals more about your values than, clearly, you could possibly imagine of his.

Try reading his critiques of various agenda-driven shows before you humiliate yourself guessing wrongly. In your blind attack you’re like the black impresario who accused him of racism for writing that her theater produced minstrel shows, or the theater-for-theater’s sake promoters who try to disinvite him after he applies the principles of analysis to the bad work they represent. When you vilify without investigation you are in fact just a shill for agenda – the agenda of unearned chauvinism. A little further toward the closet and you’re a Trump supporter.

Try reading the very review you would burn, if your passion will so allow. Tony’s very clear, and he’s too loud to write in code. He’s not saying gays generally are evil for promoting gayness. He’s saying you personally are a sheep for consuming cynical, pandering, cash-in/sell out products like this “play.”

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