Magic Time!: ‘An Act of God’ at Signature Theatre

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Rarely have I enjoyed such a perfect union of comic writing, acting, and staging with such non-stop hilarity. Just opened in the intimate Ark theater at Signature. An Act of God, had me doubled over laughing so hard it could count as an abs workout.

The intelligent design of the show is everywhere—in the kitch-celestial set (Daniel Conway), the razzmatazz lights (Alberto Segarra), the waggish sound (Ryan Hickey), the pearly white costumes (Robert Croghan), Tom Story’s divine star turn as God, his two daffy wingmen, the Archangels Michael (Evan Casey) and Gabriel (Jamie Smithson)—all under the ridiculously sublime direction of Eleanor Holdridge.

Evan Casey (Michael), Tom Story (God), and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel) and  in An Act of God. Photo by Margot Schulman.

The program calls God the Playwright, but the real prime mover is “Adapter” David Javerbaum, Emmy-winning head writer and executive producer of The Daily Show with John Stewart. For the last seven years Javerbaum has authored an irreverent Twitter feed called @TweetofGod, which became the genesis of the play. The account presently has 3.38 million followers, who presumably have a taste for Javerbaum’s wicked sense of humor.

Here, for instance, are the tweets I read just before attending Javerbalum’s play.

TheTweetofGod

If these tweets tickle you as they did me, you’ll likely adore the insouciant omniscience of An Act of God. The script’s cheeky wit, wordplay, and left-of-center politics are rollickingly relentless. There is delightful interplay with the audience, some shameless merchandizing, some ad-libbed gems. But the show is far more than the sum of its tweetable quips.

An Act of God is loosely structured around its titular character’s plan to redo the Ten Commandments, which he deems in need of a makeover. Each one occasions much laughter of recognition, but as God nears the end of his new top ten thou-shalt-nots, something metacomedic begins to occur. Some pretty darn smart theologizing starts creeping in. Some really profound observations about who God might be and who that means we are.

Evan Casey (Michael), Tom Story (God), and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel) and  in An Act of God. Photo by Margot Schulman.

To say more would spoil both the fun and the epiphany. Suffice it to say: An Act of God is not one of those comic meringues that satisfy your sweet tooth but leave you wishing you’d had something more substantial. An Act of God’s got something to say, something important about what it might truly mean to be created in God’s image. You’ll know what I’m saying when you see it. And that’s the God’s honest truth.

Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, with no intermission

An Act of God  plays through November 26, 2017, at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.

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John Stoltenberg
Among the hats John Stoltenberg wears are novelist and author, creative director and communications strategist, and avid theatergoer. Decades ago, in college, he began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile Stoltenberg’s own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then his life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction and what became a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.