People love playing God, and why not? If it's good to be king, as Mel Brooks and Tom Petty have noted, it's gotta be great to be God. You can smite anyone, you can even smite for spite. And you can get front row tickets to Hamilton whenever you want.
This explains why many folks on stage and in films have taken on the role of God, with varying degrees of success, in both dramas and comedies. Currently at the Beck Center, the role of the deity is being handled by local comedy legend Mike Polk Jr., a very funny fellow who has graced our comedy clubs and other venues for more than a few years.
In this, his first theatrical production, Polk plays the title role in An Act of God, written by a former contributor to The Daily Show, David Javerbaum. The jokes come fast and furious in this 90-minute one-act that is essentially a standup monologue aided faintly by the occasional contributions of two of the Holy Spirit's angels, Gabriel and Michael.
The bulk of the show is built around Him sharing His new Ten Commandments. Well, there are actually just eight new ones, since two are holdovers from the Charlton Heston set. And it turns out, according to this play, the King of Kings is a gay-friendly guy with a number of left-leaning political takes and serious wrath issues.
After relating how He created the world and how He felt about it (the day He created the firmament was kind of boring), the new commandments are trotted out, beginning with: "Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate." And to prove His point, He relates how he made Adam and ... Steve. He thought since they were both guys they wouldn't be distracted by sex and could focus on their gardening. But it turned out Steve, who was fashioned from Adam's rib, was a hunk and, well, nature took its course.
Indeed, the script is unafraid to take on controversial issues, amidst the rat-a-tat of punch lines. "Thou shalt not kill in my name" is a biggie, along with "Thou shalt separate Me and state." And He notes in passing that there are no sections of the Bible dealing with the advisability of gun ownership.
Clearly, this Universal Life Force thing provides rich turf for comedy, and Polk serves as a warm, and at times fearsome, master of all He surveys. At one moment he's dissing the story of Noah, debunking it as a "phylogenetically complete double nautical bestiary" while lacking in the necessary refrigeration for many animal species. The next second, he's demanding that people stop asking him for things and, for His sake, stop telling Him to bless everything all the time.
It must be noted that this Jehovah-as-jokester thing has been done before, particularly by George Burns in his series of Oh, God! flicks and famously by Bill Cosby in his early standup routines. But even though this show was first staged just a couple years ago, it already seems somewhat dated. Since we're living in the maw of a culture that is reshaping itself in radical ways almost daily (we have a President of the U.S. who sympathizes with racists and has admitted to being a sexual molester), the material here can sometimes seem a bit spongy.
But this is a one-person show, and since Polk knows a thing or two about working an audience it is often genuinely funny. Working from a white couch sitting on a raised, tiered platform, Polk as the Almighty holds forth on the many questions humans always ask: Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do little children get cancer? Why the Holocaust? God's answer: "I made you in my image. I'm like you, and I'm an incompetent psychopathic asshole."
Sadly the two angels are underutilized in this play, and that's a shame since the roles have been given to two outstanding actors. But Brian Pedaci as Gabriel is relegated to intoning a few words now and then from scripture, and Allan Byrne's Michael pops up in the audience now and then to pass along "questions" from audience members that have been pre-scripted.
The casting of Polk is inspired; it's just a shame that the conceit of God as a standup comedian couldn't have been pursued even further. If Polk's God were standing at a mic and delivering his material to an audience at the Laff Shack, it might be more interesting than the bland white staircase he's forced to repeatedly clamber up and down. And as a comic, God would be free to improvise in the moment, responding to and engaging with the audience unscripted ways. This is something Polk would be uniquely qualified to do, as opposed to most actors, and it would open up the show to a wider range of humor.
That said, there are lots of laughs to be had in this production, especially if you lean left politically. If you lean right, I guess you'll have to wait until Dennis Miller writes his version of An Act of God.