Thursday, February 11, 2016

Douglas Messerli | "Divine Lite" (on David Javerbaum's An Act of God)

divine lite
by Douglas Messerli

David Javerbaum An Act of God / Los Angeles, the Ahmanson Theatre. The performance I saw was on February 10, 2016

I don’t know what has happened to my sense of humor. At Sean Hayes’ pleasant but also somewhat aggravating performance last night of David Javerbaum’s An Act of God, the audience in the near-to-capacity Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles seemed absolutely delighted with what being said, laughing, sometimes quite boisterously, upon cue throughout the play, while I sat on the aisle stone faced. Certainly, it’s not that I don’t have a long-lens perspective when it comes to anything religious. As I’ve written elsewhere in these pages, any religious convictions I once had have been long abandoned, and any “god” I might envision has very little do with the Judeo-Christian one which this play joyfully parodied.
       Perhaps it’s simply that I don’t watch enough television, particularly television comedies, and, accordingly, the stream of lame one-liners that this confection proffered up, just wasn’t—to use what today has almost become a political metaphor—my cup of tea. I mean, come on, shouldn’t I be able to chortle over a god who admits that he has nothing against gays, lesbians, transsexuals, or any other sexuality?; who reveals the fact that the first couple upon earth were actually Adam and Steve, not Adam and Eve? It was all that phallic snake’s fault, who, after feeding them that apple, made them feel as if they’d sinned, casting them out their gay paradise.

     If the Coen brothers can mock Job, the endless sufferer, why shouldn’t this good-spirited god find the whole story a hoot? And here, for the first time in the history of Judaism and Christianity (although this god, in his seeming pantheism, seems a bit closer to Zeus; Mary is certainly not deified in this comic portrayal) admit that everything in the Good Book should be taken quite so literally. As he explains, there simply would not been enough room on the ark to have taken two of each earthly animal along on the voyage, let alone to carry the various kinds of food necessary to feed them all; and where might Noah have ever found two of all those beasts? 
      And who mightn’t like a god who's fed up with everybody taking his name in “vain,’ thanking him for their achievements which they've accomplished by themselves: “Kanye, next time you win the Grammy Award and you thank me for your ‘God-given talents,’ they’re going to get God-taken, understand?” And this god seems spot-on in his observation that there’s something perverse about a child, laying down to sleep, praying “if I should die before I wake.” 
      Indeed this good natured fellow was kind of fed up with the centuries of human misunderstanding regarding his Ten Commandments and other teachings, realizing through this TV-like talk appearance that there is “something seriously wrong with me.” And by the end of the evening, god is perfectly willing to let us folk go our own way and to stop relying on him. He doesn’t even answer all our prayers, let alone can he explain the Holocaust, the Flood, and demanding that Abraham sacrifice his son. I mean this is a god who’s obviously gone through therapy (even it’s only self-therapy) and is perfectly able to confess that he’s not always very nice—which, of course, makes us like all the more! It’s hard not to believe in such a jovial fellow. Certainly the audience did, applauding him right up his stairway to heaven—beautifully conceived, I must admit, by scenic designer Scott Pask.

So what’s my problem? Why couldn’t I laugh along with all the others? It’s not easy to explain, but I guess even in my disbelief I take true belief more seriously than the well-dressed heathens who made up this audience. I mean, even as this user-friendly god points out, terrible things have been allowed to happen in the name of the Christian god, so terrible that’s it’s not simple to just forgive and forget as he might command. And every day others who can’t or won’t give him up go on cooking up more terrible things to do for those of us who can’t or won’t believe in Him. And after all, this is just one “god.” What about all the others?
      So frankly, it’s hard for me to believe in a PC god, who just wants to be loved, even for one night. Why is it funny to dish what so many deeply believe in, when the belief itself can continue to be so destructive to all? Oh come-on I can hear you saying, “lighten up!” Even this god seems a little amused by the constant suffering of his son—not his only child evidently. But then, that has always been the big problem for me: I have never touched by divine light.

Los Angeles, February 11, 2016

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