Just as pop star Ariana Grande convinced listeners to believe that “God is a Woman” on her 2018 hit, Bristol Riverside Theatre is about to do the same.
Next month, BRT is kicking off its 33rd season with Emmy-winner and The Daily Show writer David Javerbaum’s comedy An Act of God, during which God presents a fresh set of the Ten Commandments to the modern world. Starring in the all-powerful lead role is TV and film legend Kim Wayans, who is best known for her time on In Living Color and as a member of the famous Wayans family.
When casting for the larger-than-life character, BRT founding director Susan D. Atkinson searched the entire country for a “holy” match. But it wasn’t until she decided to take the show in an uncharted direction – having a woman portray God – that she found the perfect fit.
“I thought previous actors did an amazing job playing God. It was obvious to me we wanted a celebrity to play the part,” she said. “But when I visualized God being played by a woman, I was inspired to bring the show to the next level. We didn’t want to recreate what had been done, but instead step out of the box to make something really special.”
After viewing the strong, multi-talented Wayans on In Living Color, Atkinson knew she was destined to play God.
“Not only was she a comedienne, she could sing and dance and yes, she was a Fly Girl right along with Jennifer Lopez. Years later, I saw her in a dramatic role in Pariah and thought it couldn’t be the same person,” Atkinson said. “So when it came to An Act of God, I knew what I wanted, but wasn’t sure it existed until I saw my new little niece with a book called Amy Hodgepodge – a wonderful children’s book about a blended family. It was written by Kim Wayans and her husband, and in that moment, the solution was crystal clear. I can’t wait to introduce everyone to Kim playing God.”
Despite being a self-described “newbie” to the world of theater, the excitement is equally as strong for Wayans.
“It’s going to be fabulous. Anybody who loves me and my work over the years will want to come see it because it’s an opportunity to really showcase all that I can do,” Wayans told The Times. “And playing the role of God is a role you can’t turn down. It feels great. It feels a little groundbreaking to be the first to do something, and Lord knows we’ve seen enough men over the years playing God. It’s kind of cool to see a woman doing it.”
At its heart, An Act of God is a mental romp around the Old and New Testaments. Having grown weary of the original Ten Commandments, God arrives on Earth to offer a new version for the 21st century. God, assisted by her devoted angels Gabriel and Michael, answer some of the deepest questions that have plagued mankind since Creation.
The show was originally inspired by musings on Javerbaum’s Twitter persona @TheTweetofGod and his 2011 book The Last Testament: A Memoir By God, which was billed as God’s celebrity autobiography, written by God as transcribed by Javerbaum.
According to Wayans, An Act of God is simultaneously comedic and thought-provoking.
“It gives you different ways to think about things in regards to God, or spirituality, or what ideas you have about Him or how God has been taught to us over the years,” she said. “This play brings up a lot of questions around that, and could spark some interesting conversation and debate. But it’s really very hilarious.”
Atkinson shared a similar sentiment, adding how the almighty being personified in An Act of God is a humorous depiction of what religion dictates.
“I hope audiences see that the self-absorbed, tantrum-prone character introduced was not the true manifestation of God, but rather this collective version of how humans envision God,” she said. “It has an irreverence. The deity on stage is not the commander of the cosmos per se, but rather the naturally imperfect version of what humankind has tried to make God for eons. I know through the laughter we will see some truths.”
An Act of God runs at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, from Sept. 17-Oct. 13. Tickets start at $43 and are available at brtstage.org, 215-785-0100 and the box office. Subscriptions for the 2019-2020 season are still available.
The 2019-2020 season continues with the musical Next to Normal on Oct. 29-Nov. 24, William Shakespeare’s King Lear on Jan. 28-Feb. 16, the smash hit Cabaret on March 10-April 12, and A Leg Up by Bucks County’s own Ken Kaissar on May 12-31. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org