By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
Three years ago, Jim Parsons donned the heavenly robes of the Almighty and made comedy history at Studio 54 when he starred in the Broadway premiere of An Act of God, the irreverent David Javerbaum-penned vehicle. A year later in 2016, Sean Hayes, revived the show at the Booth Theatre, playing to sold-out audiences on a limited run when he assumed the role.
The regional premiere of An Act of God opened this weekend at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré with Bryan Batt in the titular role, wherein the Lord ascends the stage in the physical body of the renowned Broadway, TV and movie actor. (Don’t worry, the Lord only borrows his body for 90 minutes at a time.)
With his brash, but cultured persona who easily demands attention on stage, Batt is literally perfectly cast to receive the holy host within. He has a holy swagger that is coupled with a Southern charm that is steeped in the sinful city of his birth.
The premise of the comedy is that God, accompanied by his two angels Gabriel (Wendy Miklovic) and Michael (Leon Contavesprie), has returned to earth to convey upon the audience his latest, updated version of the Ten Commandments. Many of these new Commandments express God’s displeasure with the conventions and norms of modern society and its fascination with self-importance and celebrity lifestyles.
Indeed, God is not dead. But he is pissed.
He takes issue with the way modern society has evolved. While God is still jealous and will have us put no other gods before Him, he is quite unhappy with those who commit misdeeds in His name. He is quite perturbed with those who take issue with whom other people choose to love, for example. He explains that he is not interested in a personal relationship with each and every audience member and don’t get Him started on Kanye West or others who want to give thanks for their “godsent” talent at awards shows.
Directed with care by Favrot-Van Horn Artistic Director Maxwell Williams, the simple, but functional set by Eric Porter is brilliantly lit by designer George Johnson and with fantastic projections by production manager James Lanius III. The costumes by Julie Winn are also quite impressive, especially the robes of the Almighty and the wings of the two angels. Sound design by Fitz Patton is very effective too, as the Most High enumerates each one of his Commandments or lets an occasional lightning bolt fly.
While the two angels have very little in the way of lines, they do offer breaks for the Lord of Hosts in what would otherwise be a 90-minute monologue. Batt’s superb delivery is a delicious treat for local audiences, but the script is left mostly intact as it was in New York with only a scant localization.
This is, after all, a largely recent work and it will work in any theater setting as long as the lead has the charm and the commitment to allow the King of the Universe to enter his body night after night and matinee after matinee. Batt channels the Holy Spirit in a performance that is divinely inspired and outright heavenly.
The script is tightly-written, but takes the audience on an emotional ride of self-discovery and examination. Many of the Commandments directly accuse modern society members – millennials, perhaps more than others – as being guilty of many of the troubling practices God has grown tired of addressing. For what it’s worth, Javerbaum, an Emmy Award winner, is quite adept as saying all that needs to be said with an economy of words. Batt, with additional support from Contavespire and Miklovic, all hone their comedic timing to perfection with a nod to Williams as a director, who allows his cast to be at home with their other worldly characters.
Late in the work, God has time to address how he feels about his son (Jesus) and so the Old Testament moves into the New Testament. The expression he has in dealing with him is not unlike that of a modern-day father, who comes to grips with a child who becomes his own teacher.
The Great Jehovah also has time to sing one selection, the aptly-titled “I Have Faith in You” with music by Adam Schlesinger and lyrics by Javerbaum. There’s probably no more inspirational male voice from New Orleans that could do this number justice and it is a lucky thing that Batt was chosen from “above” for this role.
An Act of God continues its run on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, 616 St. Peter St. Matinees on Sunday are at 2:00 p.m. For ticket information call 504-522-2081 or click here.
Alan Smason is the founder of Theatrecriticism.com and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.