Review: ‘An Act of God’ is like a mix of standup comedy and a one-God talk show

“An Act of God,” now playing at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, stars Christopher Maxwell as God with Alison Lawrence (seated) as the haughty, self-satisfied archangel Gabriel.
“An Act of God,” now playing at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, stars Christopher Maxwell as God with Alison Lawrence (seated) as the haughty, self-satisfied archangel Gabriel. North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre

Apparently, God has finally had it with mankind’s misunderstandings of his commandments and is revealing himself in human form to decree revised versions of the Big Ten. As an actor on stage. In a one-God show.

At least that’s the premise of David Javerbaum’s witty, irreverent, “An Act of God,” now playing in North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s delightfully funny and ultimately thought-provoking production.

Javerbaum, a multiple Emmy Award winner for his writing on “The Daily Show,” crafted his 2015 Broadway play out of entries from his popular Twitter account, @TheTweetOfGod.

Much of the 75-minute piece has the feel of a standup comedy routine combined with a TV talk show, but there’s an overriding framework in which God pointedly presents each of his modernized commandments. These are accompanied by reflections on current events, past actions and various questions from the audience.

The script first sets a lightly comic, sometimes off-color tone that pulls audiences in. But then it sneakily sets them up for God’s pithy observations on everything – from using him as a reason for killing others and asking his help in winning football games to how Americans constantly ask to be blessed in their already extremely blessed country and the way celebrities claim they are employing God-given talents.

The actor chosen to be God’s corporeal representation is channeling God’s voice and character but filtering them through the actor’s own personality. On Broadway, the part was played first by Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory” and later by Sean Hayes of “Will & Grace,” an indication of what’s required to keep this show afloat.

Here, Christopher J. Maxwell makes the part his own, combining a self-confident persona with great comic timing, a wide range of amusing facial expressions and body language, and the ability to be winningly caustic, bawdy and moody. He plays well off his sidekicks Alison Lawrence, as the haughty, self-satisfied archangel Gabriel, and Tom Barbieri, as the mostly obedient archangel Michael.

Director Bunny Safron doesn’t stint on the laughs, but makes sure that the deeper philosophical and moral commentary registers properly, giving audiences something to take home besides slapped-sore knees. She keeps what could have been a very static piece nicely active, aided by Thomas Mauney’s otherworldly set that includes three upholstered benches arrayed in front of a high pulpit-like structure, from which Gabriel reads out the new commandments.

Michael roams the audience to take questions, brings God tea and hawks God’s branded T-shirts and mugs. God’s changing moods are reflected on a backdrop of diaphanous curtains through the changing colors of Liz Droessler’s lighting effects.

The show is a fitting one to be Safron’s final directing project after 35 years of theater work in the Triangle and is a confirmation of the Actors Comedy Lab fruitful partnership with NRACT to mount scripts that entertain and enlighten.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com


What: “An Act of God”

Where: North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, 7713 Leadmine Road, No. 51, Raleigh

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 2-3, 9-10; 3 p.m. Feb. 4, 11

Tickets: $17-$20

Info: 919-866-0228 or nract.org

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer