‘God’s Favorite’ at Montgomery Playhouse by Joel Markowitz

Neil Simon wrote God’s Favorite as a way of reacting and dealing with his wife’s untimely death from cancer, so he turned to The Book of Job as inspiration. God’s Favorite opened on Broadway in December 1974 and had a short run of 119 performance. I didn’t know about it until Montgomery Playhouse’s Bruce Hirsch contacted me about advertising the show on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Ted Culler and David Jones. Photo courtesy of Montgomery Playhouse.

Ted Culler and David Jones. Photo courtesy of Montgomery Playhouse.

Since I am a huge Neil Simon fan, I eagerly awaited my visit to The Arts Barn to see it, and what I saw were two wonderful performances, and an evening filled with lots of funny and biting zingers – the kind that made me chuckle and at times made me proclaim to my friend who joined me, “That’s really funny and brilliant.”

Ed Starr lovingly directs the show and receives some wonderful performances from his supporting cast of actors. Joyce B. Wright (Mady) plays a Hallelujah! domestic named Mady and along with Ed Klein, who plays her co-worker Morris, they exude a lot of charm. They are endearing as the loyal, eternally optimistic, and ever-suffering domestics.

Marc Pardee is excellent and emotional (when he needs to be) as the loser son David, whose un-sobering life has put a huge dent in his relationship with his hard-working, religious father Joe (Ted Culler). Kim Busch plays Joe’s wife, Rose, and, surprisingly, is underwhelming and sedate. The twins – Ben and Sarah, played obnoxiously and screamingly by Thaddaeus Fillmore and Anne Vandercook) are -well – OVERLOUD!!!! – and obnoxious, but Fillmore and Vandercook do play them well. I just wanted to smack them and send them to boarding school right away. There’s a lot of heart in this cast, and they will only get better as the run progresses.

Which leads us to why I highly recommend you buy tickets to see this rarely-produced Neil Simon play: the wonderful performances of Ted Culler as the ever-plagued Joe Benjamin, and David Jones (Yes, the same guy who built that set) as the Messenger Sidney Lipton, who has come to beg the Job-like Joe to renounce God. I am not going to give it all away (and I am sure you can probably guess what happens). Suffice to say, in between all the kvetching, and plagues, and fire, and freezing cold, and family squabbles, and tsuris (‘troubles’ in Yiddish), Culler and Lipton fill their performances with passion, humor, and, luckily – restraint.

What a pleasure watching Culler and Jones play off each other – like Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. They are another one of Simon’s odd couples. Culler has to age and contort himself, and moan, and scratch, and scream – and he does them all winningly. Jones has to be funny while not making Sidney a total ‘joke,’ and he gives him a lot of humanity. He’s Divine (Well almost – I mean he did see HIM once and almost got his autograph). I felt sorry for this messenger who keeps bringing the same boring message – ‘Renounce God!’ with no damn success. They both have great chemistry together and bring restraint to what could be over-the-top clownish performances. Less is better and here it’s best…and admirable.

David Jones also designed the clever and large set. I felt I was in someone’s living room talking face-to-face to them. I do wish, however, that in the middle of the first act stagehands would not have disassembled some of it. All the emotion that had built up to that point ‘came tumblin’ down’ with the wallpaper.

Kudos to McKenna Kelly for her outrageous colorful costumes for the Twins, and to Paul Shoop for his crisp sound design. I was in the back of the house and I heard and understood every rapid-fire Neil Simon word. I’m sure Neil Simon would pat you on the back for your fine work.

Ted Culler and Marc Pardee. Photo courtesy of Montgomery Playhouse.

Ted Culler and Marc Pardee. Photo courtesy of Montgomery Playhouse.

Only Neil Simon would have attempted to make The Book of Job funny and in this production many of his funny lines are hysterical. I had a fun time at Montgomery Playhouse’s God’s Favorite and I am confident you will too. So to Mr. Culler and Mr. Jones I say, “Good job Job… and you too Sidney!”

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God’s Favorite plays through November 24, 2013 at The Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.

Montgomery Playhouse Opens Neil Simon’s ‘God’s Favorite’ This Friday, November 8th by Loretto McNally and Bruce Hirsch.

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