With so much bloodshed and mayhem in the world, it’s understandable that believers would want to put a few pointed questions to God, if given an audience with the maker of all things. Like, why allow children to suffer? Why can’t we find a cure for cancer? Is ketchup really a vegetable?
Those queries are all from a human perspective and speak to people’s needs. But what if all the world’s chaos itself causes the deity to need a mental health check? What if God is having a personal, nay, godly crisis?
Those questions animate “O my God!,” Israeli playwright Anat Gov’s wryly absurdist one-act that opened Saturday at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. Translated from the Hebrew by Anthony Berris and Margalit Rodgers, the play puts God (James A. Williams) on a psychologist’s couch.
He needs someone to listen to him and has chosen a single mom with her own issues for a weekend session.
Ella (Laura Stearns) frets over her preverbal teenage son Lior (Sean Carroll), who is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of needs. A nonbeliever, Ella’s sincerest wish is for the cello-playing boy to speak and for rain to break the dry spell gripping the land.
You can see the salient points of the play — and the resolution — coming from miles away. And that’s not because the plot is foreshadowed too heavily by director Robert Dorfman or his admirable trio of actors. It’s just that the questions that are given bodily form in “God” have vexed humanity for millennia, and the show is just offering them up in new packaging.
Like, would God exist without people? That notion comes up as Williams’ God ponders the end times with Stearns’ Ella. And if God is the creator of all things, did God create evil, too? Hmm.
Such big questions present endless conundrums, but they get a really human scale in a production that takes place on Michael Hoover’s messily comforting set.
The performances, too, get at what it is to be human — to search for the divine, to search for answers outside of ourselves.
Williams, who originated the role of real estate developer Roosevelt Hicks in August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” on Broadway, gives us an avuncular God. Tuxedoed out like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” and speaking mellifluously like Morgan Freeman, Williams’ God is by turns calm and fretful, a figure with Oz-like secrets. His crisis seems real, even if it offers the people in the story their gifts.
Stearns also is commendable as Ella, showing us her worry and frustrations as well as her eagerness to jump at the opportunity to have a divine audience. Who gets a chance to have God visit you at home and answer your questions?
The most moving performance comes from Carroll, who, like the character he plays, has autism. Carroll hops like a kangaroo and performs repetitive gestures that hint at the pent-up emotion that Lior has carried for years.
While the play challenges our perceptions of God, it reinscribes notions of patriarchy. The expression “Time’s Up” is invoked by God, who also presents a mathematical question to Ella to see if she can solve it. Those bits are not played with much irony, which is a shame because “God” is a heady but good time that leaves us re-examining notions of the divine.