Theater

The Twitter-Based Comedy An Act of God Isn’t All That Funny

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If movies can be inspired by theme park rides, why not a Broadway play based on a Twitter feed? An Act of God, David Javerbaum’s new comedy, emerged from a Twitter persona he created — @TheTweetOfGod, also available in book form — which ostensibly documents the musings of the Judeo-Christian deity (and boasts nearly 2 million followers). The theatrical adaption, now playing at Studio 54, incarnates God in the guise of TV sitcom star Jim Parsons, who, attended by Christopher Fitzgerald and Tim Kazurinsky as the angels Michael and Gabriel, holds forth on everything from monotheism to masturbation.

The thing about turning tweets into
theater is that you need a good plot. Javerbaum’s conceit is that God decided Parsons would be an attractive mouthpiece for a set of ten new commandments. Seated at the base of a curving white staircase leading to Heaven, Parsons offers us a set of up-to-date, feel-good dicta. (Scott Pask’s set is old-school futuristic and features an enormous, egg-shaped archway through which floating clouds appear.) “Thou shalt not tell
others whom to fornicate,” Parsons instructs. And, “Stop killing in my name,” and, “Believe in thyself.” A large set of
tablets — swiped, we’re told, from a courthouse lawn in Oklahoma — duly displays these new edicts as they’re announced.

Parsons, who makes an endearing all-powerful deity, takes time between commandments to confide the truths behind the Creation story, the flood, and the life of Christ. (Apparently the original couple was Adam and Steve, not Eve; and no, Noah did not bring two of every creature — all that was needed to survive long days on the ark was a pair of puppies.) God kvetches about the vicissitudes of omniscience and fields the occasional question from his angels (mostly familiar inquiries about why bad things happen to good
people, with equally familiar answers).

An Act of God‘s overall effect is a sort of theological stand-up comedy mixed with feel-good moralizing. It’s a combination that becomes jarring, and one that might eventually leave you unsure exactly who this play’s audience is. Javerbaum gestures to contemporary politics but dwells only on developments that are, by now, uncontroversial. (Marriage equality, for instance.) Oddly, he mentions touchier topics, like abortion and Islam, only to shy away from saying anything about them. Some of the jokes are raunchy or borderline offensive — I, for one, think you have to earn your Holocaust humor — while the more serious subjects can get awfully anodyne. (“You are my greatest creation and I am your worst.”)

By the end, when God abandons his brand-new commandments and teams up with a heavenly Steve Jobs to launch a Universe 2.0 do-over, the plot pretty much peters out. The relationships between God and his angels don’t acquire enough meaning to matter, and the new cosmos, murky as its details are, is neither truly frightening nor funny. We’re not in the territory of pure stand-up, where jokes don’t need clear connections, nor in the realm of plausible story line.

Here’s the rub with taking your
theatrical cues from Twitter. Though the site has inspired a number of dramatic experiments, from the New York Neo-Futurists’ single-tweet plays to long-form online sagas, it helps when the story fits the format. In this case God might be more amusing 140 characters at a time.

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