Is there a better venue in Sydney for American comedy writer David Javerbaum’s zinger-strewn audience with The Almighty?
This place, formerly the Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle, must feel a bit like home turf.
Immortal, ineffable, invisible, God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has every seen or can see,” according to Timothy 6:16.
A tricky staging problem, obviously, which Javerbaum overcomes through God’s borrowing of a corporeal form – in this case, that of three-time Helpmann Award winner and prince of the musical theatre stage Mitchell Butel.
Verily, the Lord knows what clicks at the box office. Burning bushes don’t really cut it anymore.
Via Butel, God explains he’s here to straighten out a few misconceptions and update His law to version 2.0. “I have grown weary of the Ten Commandments, in exactly the same way Don McLean has grown weary of American Pie … Today the Mosiac dies.”
And so, with help from a digital projector and Archangels Michael (Alan Flower) and Gabriel (Laura Murphy), He revisits and revises the road rules handed down to Moses back in the day.
“Tonight I shall give thee a new Ten Commandments that will forever end that uncertainty regarding what it is I desire from humanity that has caused so much bitterness and hatred among you over the millennia, all of which I found very flattering. Thanks. Means a lot.”
Working from a white couch and on a sweep of heavenly stairs designed by Charles Davis (looking very fine in this space under Katie Sfetkidis’ lights), Butel imbues the Godhead with the snippy charm of a morning TV host. He brings mischievous sparkle to the jokes – even those from which the shine has worn off.
Javerbaum looms large among the squadrons of writers who have served up material for late-nite hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and his gag-heavy text (salted with local references) all but cries out for the trap drum and cymbal treatment.
Mostly, the jokes fly. Some might play well in Peoria but don’t cut it here. One or two pancake. A riff on Garden of Eden inhabitants Adam and Steve feels stale to say the least.
Attempts at gravitas are hit and miss and God’s interactions with Flowers’ testy Michael do little more than trip the show’s rhythm at this stage in the show’s development.
Seventy-five minutes goes by in, well, 75 minutes but Butel works unflaggingly to entertain. It’s his knack for finding the gear changes in the piece and making the painstakingly rehearsed feel off-the-cuff that prevents An Act of God from defaulting into a hyper-extended comedy sketch.