|Photo by Phil Erbacher|
Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents, AN ACT OF GOD, by David Javerbaum, at the Eternity Playhouse, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 2nd February - 28 February.
Our species has, over the ages, tried to make sense of the events that have impacted on its survival. With our evolving, developing imagination, us humans have tried to explain the 'ups and downs' of the life experience - floods, famine, feast etc - with the invention of forces, Gods, to take some of the explanatory responsibility. For us Westerners the Books of the Old Testament, handed down to us by our ancestors as the written word of that God, and, latterly, the New Testament - recorded memories of the Apostles of Jesus Christ - has been the corner-stone of our behavioural guides. Looking at these 'relics' "You can't deny that He (God) had a compelling quirky attitude for storytelling from the start."
David Javerbaum, began ghostwriting for God on Twitter @TheTweetOfGod which subsequently transformed into a book,THE LAST TESTAMENT: A MEMOIR BY GOD, and then into this play in 2015, AN ACT OF GOD.
God has become more than a little impatient with His Word which we swear, hand on book, 'to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth' knowing it contains stories that are physically impossible - couldn't be a truth. So, because he, 'it', is an ethereal energy out there in the ethos somewhere - formless - he has decided to borrow a human shape to come down to earth and correct, update, the Ten Commandments, originally handed down to us through Moses.
In this recent incarnation of God, he has inhabited the form and used the charm of Jim Parsons (THE BIG BANG) and later, Sean Hayes (WIIL AND GRACE), to deliver a new set of commandments, and, behold his Australian vessel is Mitchell Butel, who, he tells us, many times, is the holder of three Helpman Awards, for his work as an actor, singer and director.
A gag a minute, it has many a reference to himself, the audience - some particularly - and some of the contemporary idiosyncrasies of our evolving cultural, social and political world, for easy laughs, as God, in the shape and charm of Mr Butel, takes to dismantling some of the ridiculous notions in and of the bible. There is much good humour going on, and it is interesting, to observe, that the human manifestations that God has elected to use - Parsons, Hayes and Butel - have a propensity to use the 'camp' lens and comic technique to dismantle the touchstone, edifice, of our societal construct.
For some, daringly, the work, gradually, shades into a critique of the actions of God, as it delves through the glib surfaces of the material and begins to take on a more serious tone. We go, for instance from a deconstruct of the Noah and his Ark story, which becomes, through the comic eye, 'a phylogenetically complete nautical bestiary' with the logistics debunked hilariously, to God examining his behaviour to suggest serious 'wrath management issues' that reveal himself as 'a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist'. Much like some infamous men of history, I ponder. Men that, we are taught have been created in His image. It is a chicken and the egg notion, isn't it? For us questioners which came first - God, and then Man, or, Man, and then God?
Mr Butel, on a steep, white set of ascending stairs interrupted by a platform supporting a white couch - a la Oprah - by Charles Davis (much like the original production) - holds forth in a white coverall bible-dress, covering jeans and a pair of red sneakers (looking like the original design). He is supported by Archangel Gabriel (Laura Murphy) who reads relevant references from, supposedly, a copy of the Guttenburg Bible and, occasionally, accompanies with musical interludes. While Archangel Michael (Alan Flower) begins as a roving assistant giving questions to God from the audience who gradually begins to question, himself, the actions of God, that brings the scourge of God's temper and physical harm to himself - the loss of a wing!
AN ACT OF GOD, is a stand-up comic riff of some 75 non-stop minutes, and Mr Butel has a rattling good time. However, much of the success of the night will depend so much on the responsive energy of the audience each night. The show will be ignited by the receptive temperature of the audience. If each entity, the actor and the audience, ratchet up the laughter stakes together, this show could go through the roof, if not, it could sit revving its comic wheels trying to get traction. My audience were partly receptive and the best part of Mr Butel's performance came with his later darker material - the 'dramatic stuff'.
Says the Creative Producer and CEO of the Darlinghurst Theatre:
AN ACT OF GOD was pitched to our company by Mitchell Butel who had a wonderful vision for the work. The play's casual genre and comedy belies a compelling discussion - centred on our relationship with religion and belief in the contemporary world.
This production is a contribution to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras program and is Directed by Richard Carroll and Mitchell Butel, himself.