Encore Michigan

‘Act of God’ shows promise but short of heavenly

Review May 07, 2017 Jenn McKee

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich.–Is it wrong that I kind of wish Jaime Moyer was God?

Yes or no, I got the opportunity to live out that alternative reality for about 80 minutes via “An Act of God” at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre.

Moyer’s a Detroit native, character actress, and comedienne who has, since moving to the West Coast, appeared on “Parks and Recreation,” “Two Broke Girls,” “Modern Family” and “Disney’s KC Undercover.” 

David Javerbaum’s play, meanwhile, was an outgrowth of a popular series of tweets (from @God), which led to a book, and then two limited-engagement Broadway productions starring sitcom stars Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) in 2015 and, in 2016, Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”).

Keeping this in mind, casting Moyer in the role of the Almighty seems a no-brainer. She’s quick-witted, crazy-likable, and fun to watch.

So why does “Act of God” fall a bit flat? Well, for a few reasons. First, the script itself feels pretty flimsy, which – given its origin story – is hardly surprising. It’s frothy and sassy, with some sharp one-liners (Javerbaum previously wrote for “The Daily Show”), but the premise, wherein God has decided to revamp the Ten Commandments, lacks a true narrative motor. Yes, there’s a defined structure, but little-to-no momentum pushing us forward.

In this way, the show is like a stand-up comedy/theater hybrid, and its success is thus highly dependent on the performer and audience feeding off each other’s energy. When the crowd is on the lean side – as it was on Friday evening – it makes the lead actor’s task that much tougher.

But Moyer’s not alone on the JET’s stage. God’s two favorite angels, Gabriel (Dave Davies) and Michael (Carollette Phillips), assist the Almighty. Gabriel offers up the Gutenberg bible for reference and hits the occasional rimshot, while Michael ventures into the audience to get questions from the crowd for God – sort of – and presses the Almighty now and then on the existence of evil.

This line of questioning doesn’t go well for Michael, via effects provided by sound designer Matt Lira and lighting designer Neil Koivu. Scenic designer Elspeth Williams provides a raised-level bedchamber for God, flanked by stairs on both sides; some greenery; two cottony-cloud prop stations for the angels; marble benches; and in the set’s center, a small, square pool, into which God can toss “the firmament” – a/k/a a small globe ball – and occasionally dip a toe.

But to do the latter, Moyer must kick off the bright pink Crocs that costume designer Mary Copenhagen has God wearing, along with a white outfit and a long, ombre sheer cardigan in shades of blue, with star-like sparkles. (This God is a comfort-first God, which I can totally get behind.) Meanwhile, Davies sports a white suit and straw hat, while Michael sports golden armor and a halo.

Overseeing An Act of God is director Lavinia Hart, who also happens to be Moyer’s mother. Moyer’s charming on stage, as always, and An Act of God will undoubtedly make you laugh now and then. (One of my favorite moments involves God talking about Adam when he was the only being alive: “And, yay, he did masturbate incessantly.”) But in the end, it’s a variations-on-a-joke show about God being a dishy, smart-alecky friend you get to hang out with for an evening.

You could do worse, particularly if a more lively, responsive crowd provides something for Moyer to play off of. But short of that – well, you could likely do better, too.

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