Encore Michigan

‘God Help Us’ at Monster Box features a ticked-off Almighty. Who can blame him/her?

Review January 29, 2017 David Kiley

It might not surprise many of us, but God has pretty much had it with us. And who can blame God? We never seem to stop warring. We can’t figure out how to stop wasting millions of tons of food, while people starve. And we have ministers, minsters!, making millions off allegedly spreading God’s word.

This is the backdrop of God Help Us, now playing at Monster Box Theatre. Written by Jeremy Kehoe, the play was submitted to the 2015 Detroit Fringe Festival. Artistic director Paul Stark seized on it, and prevailed on the playwright to expand it.

God (Jim Moll) is pissed. And with an unusual jones for Coke Zero, tells Saint Peter (Kenneth Franzel) that he is sick of the hypocrisy on Earth and especially the incessant flow of prayers for trivial crap. How many of us have had the same thought when we hear a pro athlete beseech the almighty for an RBI at a crucial moment, or bless himself before getting in the batter’s box.

Representing the prayerful chattering class that God is pretty much done with is Rebecca (Karyl Crites), a middle-aged single Mom with an un-edited devotion to God and who loves her mini candle-lit shrine to Jesus. Her son, Isaiah (Pascal Rehm), is a snarky, attitude-filled, chain-wearing teen with great love for his Mom, but not her devotion to the Holy Trinity.

God sends Peter and his only son, Jesus (Adam Kabot) down to Earth to try to get Rebecca to renounce her faith as a deal. If she does, and stops bugging God, the Almighty will turn off the 40-day clock on destroying civilization. I’ll leave the plot at that, though it has a few more twists and turns.

The script has a lot of laughs and sight gags. And the plot, if a bit ham-fisted, seems timely and original. It’s early days on this new script, and Kehoe would do well to drag a comb through it. It’s a bit over-written. The snark is so rapid-fire at times, as to draw eye-rolls. But, taken as a whole, God Save Us is a pretty amusing and thought provoking idea.

The irreverence toward God, Jesus, the bible, religion and misguided Christians who don’t seem to understand the compassion clause in the good book would make Bill Maher grin, but this play might have a hard time getting funding from what is left of the National Endowment of the Arts. But that is the provocation in the material…and the point.

Moll is well cast as the Almighty, which is a line any of us would like to have on our resume. Perhaps his frequent turns as St. Nick in another play was good training. Crites handles her task well, even while being painted in caricature by the playwright, complete with Simpsons slippers and rhinestoned cat’s-eyes glasses. Rehm for much of the play foments his teenagery angst in somewhat annoying turns, but that is actually the right way to play it, especially when a teenager whose abusive father disappeared and left him with a beloved Mother whose blind devotion to religion doesn’t register for him. Teens are often awkward and exasperating in the eyes of adults who love them, and this one is no different. Franzel, a fixture in the Monster Box troupe, is always amusing and plays Peter as a nervous and reluctant messenger for God in this mission who also questions God and tries to be the voice of reason – an interesting role for both an actor and a saint. Playing Jesus is never easy, but Kabot gives it a good go with dialogue that is less than expected for a savior. He’s not too anxious to go back to earth, considering how it went the first time, and that is kind of funny.

Sure, God Help Us is flawed. But the overall thrust of the story is, in this critic’s view, incredibly reverential of religion. What? Yes. There might be some who would object to a Jesus in a comedic context showing the wounds in his hands, and God swilling Coke Zero. But at bottom, the story is meant to shine a bright light on the absurdity and hypocrisy with which many so-called modern-day disciples try and carry, and sell for profit, the actual inspirational and aspirational message of The Good News, as well as the legitimate skepticism around religion. It’s a bit of a high-wire act, and  a promising script that should get more work.

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