In a blinding spectacle of white lights and gospel hymns, the one-and-only God left the heavens on the evening of Thursday, Sept. 19, to make an exclusive appearance to the people of Bristol Borough.
But rather than sporting a white robe and flowing beard – an image that’s so often depicted – the almighty entity donned a fitted ball gown and sparkling, golden sneakers. On the stage of Bristol Riverside Theatre, God manifested himself (or herself) in the image of In Living Color actress Kim Wayans.
This was the kickoff of BRT’s 33rd mainstage season, and the opening night of 13-time Emmy winner David Javerbaum’s comedy An Act of God. It was also a historic landmark for the production – for the first time, according to Wayans, a “tall black chick” is portraying the lead role instead of a white male, such as The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons, who previously appeared as God on Broadway.
Within moments of taking the BRT stage alongside her devoted angels Michael and Gabriel, played by BRT newbies Benjamin Brown and Peter DeLaurier, respectively, Wayans is a non-stop spitfire of sass and sarcasm, instantly inciting audience laughter.
Wayans’ depiction of God is just as Javerbaum intended when he penned the play, which is based on his Twitter persona @TheTweetofGod. Ultimately, God is a “hot mess,” as Wayans so bluntly describes it. She’s imperfect, prone to anger (and the occasional smiting), and gets insanely jealous from time to time – all qualities humans are familiar with, since we were made in God’s image.
Throughout the 90-minute show, God/Wayans presents the people of Bristol Borough with a fresh set of Ten Commandments, slightly altered after many millennia for the modern world.
Revamped examples include how we should love who we want to love (fun fact – Adam was attracted to Steve, rather than Eve), and how we shouldn’t ask for Her divine intervention during menial things like football games because, frankly, She doesn’t care.
“I hope audiences see that the self-absorbed, tantrum-prone character introduced was not the true manifestation of God, but rather the collective version of how humans envision God,” explained BRT founding director Susan D. Atkinson. “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.”
Many of these “truths” referred to by Atkinson are brought to light by Michael/Brown, a standout in the intimate cast. During An Act of God, the angel takes questions from the audience. Though the inquiries start out light-hearted, they soon become deep as Michael begins to ask things of his own. Why doesn’t God answer all prayers? Why do bad things always happen to good people? Naturally, God/Wayans is thrown off guard by Michael’s doubt in Her and his accusatory questions, which surely get theater-goers thinking as well.
At its heart, An Act of God is a crude-humor comedy that effortlessly ties in thought-provoking messages about religion and our existence. Attendees can expect to have a few deep conversations during the drive home.
An Act of God runs through Oct. 13. Tickets start at $43 and are available at brtstage.org, by calling 215-785-0100, or at the box office, located at 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol.
Following the show, Bristol Riverside Theatre will present the hit musical Next to Normal on Oct. 29-Nov. 24; King Lear by William Shakespeare on Jan. 28-Feb 16; 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