Religion got quite the pulpit during the Broadway season that just wrapped, with shows like Wolf Hall, Hand to God and It Shoulda Been You. So perhaps it’s high time for a word from religion’s sponsor: the Lord Himself, who’s appearing in a limited engagement (what, you expected eternity?) of the wearisome, intermission-less divertissement An Act of God. Truly, I mean no disrespect to the Almighty when I say I’m just grateful it wasn’t Two Acts of God.
Adapted by David Javerbaum, the Emmy-winning former head writer of The Daily Show, from his book “The Last Testament: A Memoir by God,” An Act of God stars Jim Parsons. But since, God Knows, every Broadway show needs angels, he too has them, a pair of wingmen, Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Gabriel (Tim Kazurinsky).
For reasons best known to Himself, as the Lord explains in a prologue, “I have chosen to appear in form; specifically that of beloved television star Jim Parsons. For lo, I have endowed him with a winning, likeable personality; and know of a certainty that your apprehension of my depthless profundities will be aided by his offbeat charm. And then, the irony of him starring in a show called The Big Bang Theory ... I just couldn’t resist. What can I say? In the desert I appeared as a burning bush. On Broadway, I appear as Sheldon Cooper. Know thy audience. Nice guy, by the way.”
What follows is what amounts to a 10-minute Second City-style sketch that’s been very, very thinly stretched to 90 minutes and that uses as a framing device God’s desire to revise the Ten Commandments. (They’re displayed Family Feud style on a board at the top of a staircase, the centerpiece of the set designed by Scott Pask.)
Aside from one holdover – “I Am the Lord Thy God, King of the Universe. You Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me” – the list includes “Thou Shalt Not Kill in My Name." (“I don’t need your help,” God explains.) ”Thou Shalt Not Tell Me What to Do.” (“Thou shalt not tell me what to bless, damn, forbid, forsake or speed, or whose queen to save, or whose soul to have mercy on, or which merry gentlemen to rest. I am God. If you want anything, you ask. Politely. And then ... you take your chances.”) And whatever else you do, “Thou Shalt Not Seek a Personal Relationship with Me,” because as God explains, “I’m not good at relationships.”
Parsons is a terrifically likable performer and does honorably by the material. But the material, which was fresh and daring when it was tackled by Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks in The 2000 Year Old Man, now feels predictable, and it gets tedious very quickly.
An Act of God, essentially an extended monologue, is occasionally broken up by Archangel Michael’s forays into the orchestra section of Studio 54. He introduces audience members who supposedly have questions for God, even though it’s Mike (that’s what God calls him) who has the questions, probing questions, like, “Lord, do you answer prayers?” Apparently, it’s complicated.