As subversions go, you could hardly trump David Javerbaum’s An Act of God, which plays like a lay-’em-in-the-aisles one-man comedy despite being (as I wrote in my review of its limited run last year) “one of the most vehement takedowns of the deity ever to reach Broadway.” It’s still exactly that, though also something different, in the version that reopened tonight, once again directed by Joe Mantello, and starring Sean Hayes in the Role originally played by Jim Parsons. Except for a few topical references — to Hamilton, to Will and Grace, to the Jets instead of the Cubs — the script is unchanged; it still posits a God who, in order to announce some new policies to humanity, has come to Broadway (where the Jews are) in the form of a popular actor in white robes and sneakers. The new policies involve a revised set of ten commandments (“Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate”) and a universal reboot. God, you see, is unsatisfied with his creation, and also with himself.
His dissatisfaction with us is the source of the humor, which is often dressed up in King James diction. Of Adam he says, “But I soon noticed he felt bereft in his solitude; for oft he sighed, and pined for a helpmeet; and furthermore he masturbated incessantly, until he had well-nigh besplattered paradise.” God’s dissatisfaction with himself is the source of something rather darker, and the color of the humor changes to match, moving from yuks to yikes. He calls himself “an asshole” and “a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist.” He even calls Jesus a pussy. Orthodox Christians not put off by those flippancies will be horrified by the sacrilegious notion, expressed near the end of the 85-minute play, that Jesus died not for man’s sins, but for God’s. God made the world wrong.
When Parsons played the role, his charm pulled the audience through these dark and thrilling passages. Hayes isn’t charming; rather, he’s “charming.” His stage presentation involves multiple reflections of insincerity. The funny parts of An Act of God are slightly less funny as a result; I often found myself thinking, What’s this God’s angle? On the other hand, the dark parts are more despairing, the shell of shtick providing no defense now. Even God’s wingmen, the archangels Michael and Gabriel (played in this engagement by David Josefsberg and James Gleason) seem bereft. I worried that the audience wouldn’t follow Hayes there, and indeed the show barely recovers its balance in time for God’s big number right before the curtain. But maybe that’s what He, or Javerbaum, wanted.
An Act of God is at the Booth Theatre through September 4.