WASHINGTON — It was a Twitter handle that became a book and then a Broadway hit.
Now, “An Act of God” hits Signature Theatre in Shirlington, Virginia, now through Nov. 26.
“As plays go, it’s a mile-a-minute,” actor Evan Casey told WTOP. “It packs a big wallop of comedy punch in a very short amount of time. It’s also something … that’s important to hear. It can be passed off as just a piece of silly comedy, but there’s some important messages.”
Written by 13-time Emmy winner David Javerbaum (“The Daily Show”) and directed by Eleanor Holdridge, the 90-minute show finds God (Tom Story) worried that his Ten Commandments have been misinterpreted over the centuries. So, he enlists his archangels, Michael (Evan Casey) and Gabriel (Jamie Smithson), to promote a revised set of comedic commandments.
“He has a new version of the Ten Commandments,” Story said. “He feels that mankind has misinterpreted his previous commandments — and he’s chosen Signature Theatre in Shirlington to deliver these new commandments. He goes through the 10 of them with the help of his angels and help from the audience and imparts these new laws on humanity.”
What are some of these common misinterpretations?
“God talks about how celebrities and sports figures use him in their speeches on ‘SportsCenter’ and at the Oscars. He’s fed up with people claiming that he helped them win the game when he has absolutely zero interest in that,” Story said. “In terms of sexuality, he’s not anti-gay. He pretty much hates all of humanity. I think he thinks mankind is a glorious creation but a flawed creation. He is just there to clarify what he actually meant.”
His biggest cheerleader is archangel Gabriel, the Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson.
“If you picture the ‘Ellen’ show or ‘The Daily Show,’ I am the guy on the stage reading with the [deep] voice,” Smithson said. “[I’m] reading the new commandments, being his friend and trying to help him in every way possible tell these new commandments. That’s my position.”
Meanwhile, Casey plays the more subversive Michael, spitting the sort of uproarious blasphemy pioneered in “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1971) or “The Book of Mormon” (2011).
“Michael spends most of the show in the audience, getting questions from the audience and relaying them back to God, trying to ask the bigger picture questions,” Casey said. “The relationship between God and Michael takes a bit of a turn throughout the course of the show because Michael begins to ask some questions that God isn’t prepared to answer.”
Does that mean there are different audience questions from show to show?
“I have no doubt that there will be elements of how the audience plays with us that will give us different kinds of responses,” Casey said. “But in general, the questions [in the script] allow the show to move in a specific way. They are as broad as you expect them to be; the existential questions on all of our minds: Why are we here? What’s your plan for the world?”
This “talk show” staging provides plenty of visual fodder for scenic designer Daniel Conway.
“It’s almost like you’re walking on the ‘Ellen’ show,” Smithson said. “A lot of the wallpaper on the set is literally taken from the ‘Ellen’ show itself. Then you have the couch, the big white couch, where God will do his show, then you have the side booth, then you have Michael going through the audience. … So it’s very much like you’re seeing a show on-air live.”
As for the wardrobe, costume designer Robert Croghan creates an angelic look.
“It has a very white look because obviously it’s celestial and it gives this godly look,” Casey said. “But it was very important [that] we have pops of color as well. So we have splashes of gold and things within what we’re doing [to] give it more than that one block-color look.”
Beyond the divine staging, the cast promises you’ll be in comedy heaven.
“The writing is really clever and unexpected and elaborate in some ways where you don’t always know where it’s going,” Story explained. “There are these long setups for some pretty great jokes, as well as revelations about this God, who is not what you think he is.”
You’ll recognize this brand of comedy from the popular Twitter handle: @TheTweetOfGod.
“It shows the power of social media,” Casey said. “It went from three million followers to a book, ‘The Last Testament,’ then from a book to a stage play with Jim Parsons in 2015, and then with Sean Hayes in 2016 when it came back for another limited run on Broadway.”
Don’t worry, the show doesn’t contain 140 characters. Rather, its three main characters form a so-called “holy trinity” of stage comedy in the vein of Mel Brooks’ “History of the World Part 1” (1981). Just don’t expect the five extra commandments that Brooks hilariously dropped.
“I think those are lost to history,” Casey joked.
Click here for more on “An Act of God” at Signature. Listen to our full chat with the cast below:
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