by Julia Doerr
To begin with, let me assert that “An Act of God” has, without question, the fluffiest set I have ever seen. When one enters the Lied Center’s Johnny Carson Theater for this Nebraska Repertory production, one finds oneself in God’s living room, which is inside a cloud. Well, where else would it be? Something about the abundant fluff lets one know at first sight that this play has a sense of humor. Scenic Designer Jill Hibbard, Lighting Designer Jaime Mancuso, and Costume Designer Haley Williams have created a highly textured environment in white, white, and white.
And yet nothing about this performance is monotonous. The script is witty, thought-provoking, and irreverent. In fact, to be perfectly upfront about it, some more conservative or orthodox people of faith might find aspects the script offensive. It includes a rewriting of the Ten Commandments, only two of which are left unchanged as God uses the exercise to “clarify” some controversial issues. God talks frankly about sex and other adult topics; occasionally language gets a little raunchy or profane. Ticket-buyers are advised of this from the outset, so take that into consideration. Wednesday’s audience, though, seemed to appreciate the irreverence and responded with plenty of laughter and good nature.
This particular play would never work without a strong actress to play the part of God, and LA-based actress Trisha Miller has the chops to make it work well. Her God is witty (and proud of it), sarcastic, acerbic, and very occasionally tender. When angry or annoyed she is formidable– and scarier because of the changes in lighting and sound that underscore her emotions. If you are wondering about God’s gender, well, God is asserted to be beyond gender and physical form, but God “borrows” the body and style of an actress from Los Angeles, who happens to be named Trisha Miller.
Only two other characters appear on stage in this play, the Angel Gabriel played by Nick Prior and the Angel Michael played by Grace Debetaz. Gabriel is essentially a cheerleader for God, while Michael is described in the script as “humanity’s best advocate” and much more of a challenger or questioner. It is Michael who demands to know why children get cancer, why God allowed the Holocaust to happen, and whether prayers are ever answered. And it is Michael who most frequently provokes God’s wrath. Both Prior and Debetaz perform well in their roles.
The God of this play is sometimes bored with humanity, often annoyed with them, and anxious to explain why. Many of the whys will make you laugh out loud but squirm a little too. The other thing about this God is that she is mercurial, flighty, and not always very nice. For example, God explains the Irish Potato Famine happened not because God was mad at the Irish but because God was mad at the potato. “Judging, smiting, and terrorizing,” God says, “were part of the family business.” And, according to God, the Book of Job, is the funniest story in the Bible.
God’s saving grace, perhaps, is that God finds herself increasingly self-aware. She has been influenced by her Son. That part of the play shows God at her most tender. This God, in spite of omniscience and omnipotence, finds herself imperfect but growing. That may be one of the most controversial ideas in the whole script, but it works in this context.
“An Act of God” runs for almost exactly 90 minutes without intermission. Then you can go somewhere with your friends and talk about it. I suspect you will want to. Performances of the play run through October 14.
P.S. This is the Nebraska Repertory Theatre’s 50th season. Kudos to them for their longevity and ongoing quality.
Individual Tickets: $34 | Student/OLLI: $17
Performances are 9/28, 9/30, 10/2-10/7, and 10/9-10/14
Julia Doerr is a retired high school English teacher with a lifelong love of plays, both as literature and performance. She assisted, as dramaturg, with the direction of several Shakespeare plays during her tenure at Lincoln High School, where she spent 27 of her 33 years teaching. Julia loves to attend the theater, to write, and to share her opinions. That makes writing reviews her dream assignment.