Act of God
Sean Hayes, David Josefsberg; Photo by Jim Cox

Act of God

By David Javerbaum
Starring Sean Hayes
Directed by Joe Mantello
Golden Gate Theatre
San Francisco, Calif.
Mar. 31-Apr. 30, 2016
Reviewed on Mar. 31, 2016
shnsf.com

God descends from the heavens to San Francisco’s Tenderloin Golden Gate Theater to announce the Good News: a post-modern, pre-apocalyptic update of the Ten Commandments. And who better to play God tossing out rewrites than Sean Hayes? Hayes was the busybody passive-aggressive Jack, of “Will and Grace,” whose character nibbled around the edges of a sexually discomfiting relationship between the show’s two leads. As fortunes in acting careers often go, Hayes is the one who had the best lines in a TV series that was just as much about the audience’s ambivalent feelings on the subject of pan-sexuality as it was about Will and Grace’s.

“Act of God” takes the same tack of starting with where it patronizingly needs its audience to be in order to score points that some may find redundant. It presumes that we assume that, instead of its handmaiden, Judeo-Christian orthodoxy is the root source of homophobia, a miscalculation that results in a cascade of tepid jokes meant to piggyback onto apparent inconsistencies in Biblical lore. Were Hayes not such a tensile presence in this mostly one-man show, the early jokes would fall even flatter. Post-millennial audiences—believers or not—and even in Spirituality-supersaturated San Francisco, don’t much care whether Bible stories hold water. Neil deGrasse Tyson (whose name finds its way into the show’s script) has made some headway on this score. Alas, the intended rapier wit aims imprecisely at targets that have long ago retreated from striking distance. This results in the top-of-show jokes sounding so last year. Were it not for Hayes working overtime to parry a blunted rapier, hoping to compensate for the script’s weaknesses to the point of overplaying, the first twenty minutes of the show would have gone straight to the devil. Among the less-than-incisive joke lines is: “The Bible is accurate, especially when thrown from close range.”

Two interlocutors, St. Gabriel and St. Michael, played by David Josefsberg and James Gleason, fish in the audience for persons God can transition into patsies. Those occupying the expensive seats are His prime targets. Ushers hold latecomers until several minutes into the show, and then march them in a line up and down the aisles like penitents. Excoriating them as tardy, Hayes declares, “Spoiler alert: It’s me, Sean Hayes!” Later on, He reminds, “Remember, I have to watch you when you masturbate, and I see a lot of familiar faces here tonight.”

God’s true passion is the rehabilitation of the Bible. This involves reconfiguring the Garden of Eden plotline so that it now features Adam and Steve, where Eve is more of a domestic worker somewhere in the Diaspora, or as you sometimes hear spoken derisively in the streets of San Francisco, a “breeder.”

God, in this new Evolutionary initiative, maintains that He is not anti-science. “I booked Darwin’s cruise,” He adduces to his own defense.

The lead-in to the show’s finale is less post-Talmudic, and more evangelical in tone. Here God urges the audience to stop praying and asking him for things all the time, especially with regard to football victories, the exception being when the supplicant is praying for a miracle that affects the point spread. He’s tired of the likes of Matthew McConaughey, who, brimming over with false humility, thank Him for their Academy Awards. He would also prefer not be asked to rest any “merry gentlemen.”

In the end, God points out His own weaknesses to any who may have missed them: that He has some anger management issues, is sorry that we have to see Him when he’s like that, is a little disappointed with His son, Jesus, who was born of a virgin in a manger, went into the family business of smiting, judging, getting resurrected, and then was subject to the pressures of “all day, every day” (except on Christmas), dying for your sins. Preaching to the choir, He takes aim at a certain demagogic Presidential candidate as one of His worst creations. Can there be more convincing proof that He, God, is flawed? He concludes by urging us to rely on ourselves instead, lamenting wearily, as well as verily, “You’re better off without me.”

No kidding!

Toba Singer, author of “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida 2013), and “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), writes for international dance journals and websites, and has served as an advisor to the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design. She was the University Press of Florida author representative at the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” was nominated for the Latin American Student Association Bryce Award, the de la Torre Research and Dance Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award.