This review was originally published to Broadway World on April 30, 2016
Stop me if you've heard this one before. God walks into a therapist's office and says he's depressed. The therapist asks "how long have you felt this way?" and God says, "something like...two thousand, two thousand five hundred years, give or take." "You've been depressed for two thousand years and only now you've come for therapy? What were you waiting for?" asks the therapist and God says "I thought time would heal." Sometimes, everyone needs a swift 90 minute session of cathartic therapy to unpack some problems festering for two thousand years. In Anat Gov's play "Oh, God," an earthly psychologist is chosen to have a session with the Big Guy about a 2000 year old itch.
Ella has no idea what she is getting herself into when a mysterious white-haired man enters her office for a seemingly routine session of therapy. Treating this session like any other one, Ella goes through the motions of asking him a series of introductory questions and quickly discovers something is different about this patient when each bizarre answer is stranger than the last. Ella asks his name and the man says, "I am that I am." She asks his age and he says, "five thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight... next week." Ella begins to worry the man is psychotic and makes her first, of many, attempts to end the session by recommending he see a psychiatrist to receive proper care. Aka: medication.
There is nothing odd about this situation, other than the fact that he is God.
God, being wise, knows he can't keep his identity hidden from Ella any longer if he wants to resolve his issues. The play launches into a series of beats thrown together expressing Ella's disbelief in witnessing the second coming. Its cadence is similar to a multi-camera sitcom with built in laugh lines. God assures her that He is indeed God. Ella rejects this. Repeat. The two volley back and forth until God sees no other option and breaks out his powers.
The two are seated and the play evolves (pardon the pun) into a modern day morality tale about an immortal. God is dissatisfied with the creation of human and feels abandoned. God tells Ella He created Adam for companionship and gave the animals, plants, and rivers to him as a gift. But, even for God, things didn't go according to plan. Flash forward two thousand years, God is now weak, desolate, and unable to control His temper. He wants to abdicate. God's anguish has manifested into a discontempt for the human race by claiming no one looks to him unless they are backed in a corner.
Oh, God was originally produced by Israeli Stage in 2013 as a staged reading before touring regionally and is now back as the company's second fully staged production. Directed by Guy Ben-Aharon Oh, God is uncharastically still for a script that features two characters in a constant state of passion. The intimate two character play fits nicely in a small black box theatre and can benefit from some theatrical stage magic. God uses his powers onstage and even summons up a wrath of fury at the climax. Lighting and sound could have done more to complement this moment.
The office, a sunroom off the side of a mid-century home is smartly designed by Cristina Todesco and decorated by Ronald J. De Marco with suspended potted plants and bookshelves acting as symbols of the contributions from immortals and mortals to this world respectively. Care to guess which character sits in front of which symbol? Maureen Keiller's more relaxed than deadpan performance of Ella taps from Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos and looks beautiful in Charles Schoonmaker's costumes. Will Lyman has commanding vocal work as God, but his performance lacks the beguiling almighty high-status in the early beats of the play.
Anat Gov, who passed away 2012, left behind a nearly complete play written with sharp wit. The play often dramatizes The Book of Genesis rather than exploring the theme of existing through belief which seemed like the obvious direction having chosen a psychologist as God's sparring mate. The conveniently plotted narrative is too clean to believe God convinced a science professional of his existence in the first 20 minutes and still had enough time for a monumental breakthrough by the end. Such ease begs the question, "who was the patient?" Anat Gov serves a few slices of Ella's personal trauma to us early in the play (ie: husband walked out and her son has autism), but Gov doesn't spend anymore time addressing it to support my theory.
Regardless of belief, Oh, God is a fascinating discussion of faith in a secular society between a woman of science and the immortal symbol of Faith with a message that we all possess the ability to change and improve. Even God.