Holy Laughs
B.J. Cleveland is a natural to play the Big Guy in the Sky in the hilarious An Act of God at Stage West.

by Jan Farrington | TheaterJones | December 7, 2017

Support local arts coverage. Read the review at TheaterJones.com

In the beginning, there was B.J. (Cleveland, that is.)

And a TV show for kids.

And yes, it does feel like our “beloved local theater luminary” has been around for Eternity.

So, sure—why not let B.J. be God? Or at least His earthly body, borrowed for the run of playwright David Javerbaum’s zingy divine comedy An Act of God at Stage West. Who knew white satin and gold lamé were Cleveland colors? He looks great.

Director Harry Parker wisely lets the quips fall where they may in this loosey-goosey, God-tells-all  regional premiere from the multi-talented Javerbaum (The Onion, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, John Waters’ Cry-Baby musical, and his very popular @TheTweetOfGod). When B.J.’s on a roll, there’s no stopping him anyway.

But as we’re laughing—and turning our eyes toward heaven at the adult-level jokes, puns and tweaked-to-hell Bible verses—we begin to notice that All is not right. The Lord our God may be All-Powerful and All-Knowing…but right now, He is not All-Happy.

What’s the problem? We are.

“Amen,” God says, is His favorite word. It means we’ve stopped praying, asking, begging, wanting—every second of every day, by the billions. God loves us, but He’d like us to back off a bit.

With two “wingmen” at his side—Doug Fowler as the smooth, uber-efficient Archangel Gabriel and Parker Gray as the wound-up, questioning young Archangel Michael, both sleek in Michael Robinson’s white suits and wings—God is about to shake things up. How? With a brand-new 10-pack of Commandments, ones He hopes might make us humans grow up…and have a little faith in ourselves.

It wouldn’t be right to give away the heaven-sent Big Ten List. The new rules work both on a comic and a serious level, and they’re certainly a change. And with each new commandment, God digresses, chattily telling stories and cracking wise about the Old Days: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” First sarcasm. …The Ark? Noah only took puppies. …Florida? Yes, He always knew it looked like a penis—even before Adam.

God never really answers Michael’s insistent questions (he pretends they’re from the audience, but we know better) about suffering and evil; He just keeps on joking. “Why do bad things happen to good people? To even out the good things that happen to bad people, duh.”

Cleveland lounges like an A-list celebrity, smiles like a pol, and leans in like a talk-show host with something to confess. His performance is as hammy as a Baptist buffet—and tons of fun. And though He admits to “wrath management” issues, this God seems to like His humans even when He’s feeling low—and strangely imperfect.

Kevin Brown’s glowing set design—from marbled floors and columns to snowy sofa and fluffy hanging clouds—is the perfect Pearly Gates backdrop for God’s musings. N. Ryan McBride’s sudden bursts of sound generate an impressive level of dazzle and awe. God loves that stuff, He tells us.

 An Act of God is a showcase for Javerbaum’s clever brain, Cleveland’s comic timing, and director Parker’s light-hearted feel for good comedy. It’s an old-school style of humor: you’ll be hearing ba-da-BINGs in your head, if not onstage.

Is it OK to laugh at the Lord?

We’re about to find out.