Sean Hayes is devilish/divine in Act of God

Apr 07

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Sean Hayes is a vessel for the almighty in An Act of God, David Javerbaum’s darkly comic play at SHN’s Golden Gate Theater. Below: Hayes takes a selfie with archangels played by James Gleason and David Josefsberg. Photos by Jim Cox

Like parochial school for fans of The Daily Show, the play An Act of God is a curious theatrical experience. All the ingredients are there: bells and whistles set, sharply funny script, charming star. But in the end, as in the beginning, it’s more lite than enlightening. Maybe it’s too much to ask that a snarky comedy about a grumpy god holding forth before an audience of heathen Americans have some spiritual heft to it, but the script comes close several times but ends up wishing it were a ditzy musical.

Written by former Daily Show writer David Javerbaum, this God had a nice run on Broadway last year starring Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory), and now this left coast version stars Sean Hayes, whose success in Los Angeles and now San Francisco has encouraged producers to take the show, and Hayes, back to Broadway.

It’s interesting that in both productions, God has been played by an out gay man, but to be clear about the play’s conceit, the actor isn’t really playing God. He’s playing an actor chosen by God to be a channel for the almighty’s message after years of being incommunicado.

The most interesting thing about An Act of God is that it reveals God to be, well, an act. God is all powerful, mighty and omniscient, but he’s also angry, imperfect, guilty, regretful, spiteful and full of flaws reminiscent of those in his human creations. “Faith is a sausage best not seen made,” he says. This is not a likable God, nor is he trying to be. He’s grown weary of the Ten Commandments as his greatest contribution to Western civilization, so he spends 75 minutes revealing 10 new commandments (technically there are a few holdovers from the original).

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He’s assisted by two archangels, Gabriel (James Gleason, who reads from a Gutenberg Bible and Michael (David Josefsberg), who takes (fake) questions from the audience and asks his own provocative questions like why God allowed the Holocaust and 9/11 to happen and why he lets children – or anyone – die of cancer. God’s responses to those questions are evasive. At one point he punishes Michael by making one of his wings fall off (the audience awwwwwws in sympathetic union).

If you know Hayes from his years as Jack (Just Jack! and jazz hands) on Will and Grace, you’re familiar with his sharp comic timing and seemingly effortless way with a laugh line. He’s a real pro, and he sells this material well. He also handles the darker transitions well, as when God discusses why he made Abraham, one of his all-time favorite humans, almost kill his beloved son Isaac or when he talks about his son Jesus and all that messy business involving dying for our sins.

There’s an edge to the comedy here, and director Joe Mantello resists anything warm, cuddly or reassuring in this divine chat session. Hayes could be sweeter if he wanted to be, but the play calls for something harder and more thorny. It’s surprising, then, that the evening devolves into an only somewhat ironic musical number about believing in ourselves. It’s all very “Up with People,” but it doesn’t obscure the fact that God’s true message here is one of ambivalence. He moves in mysterious ways for sure, even to himself.

[bonus interview]
I interviewed Sean Hayes for a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
David Javerbaum’s An Act of God continues through April 17 at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F. Tickets are $45-$150 (subject to change). Call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com.

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