Thou shalt applaud this performance

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday April 6, 2016
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God, in the form of Sean Hayes, takes a selfie with his<br>two assistants (James Gleason and David Josefsberg) in <i>An Act of God </i><br>now at the Golden Gate Theatre. Photo: Jim Cox
God, in the form of Sean Hayes, takes a selfie with his
two assistants (James Gleason and David Josefsberg) in An Act of God
now at the Golden Gate Theatre. Photo: Jim Cox

Entrance applause for a star coming onto the stage can sometimes be an awkward affair. A big name in a serious play must pause, waiting for quiet while trying not to acknowledge the welcome. There is no such problem in An Act of God because the star welcomes the applause with open arms.

Actually, it is the character he plays who basks in the embrace, taking the onus off Sean Hayes for breaking character. As you probably know, that character is God, who has chosen to speak to his flock at the Golden Gate Theatre in the form of Hayes " "the beloved star of stage and screen," God tells us. His mission is to introduce an updated set of the 10 Commandments, which he proceeds to do for 90 gosh-darn-funny minutes. (Not taking his name in vain is one of the holdover commandments, especially the irksome "God bless you" when someone expels nasal mucus.)

David Javerbaum has tweaked his play for San Francisco, with God noting that the theater is located in "the Tenderloin, the glamor capital of San Francisco," and that he hasn't visited our city in over a century. "The last time I was in San Francisco was on a business trip in 1906." Beat. "Just kidding."

An Act of God had a successful Broadway run in 2015 starring Jim Parsons of TV's The Big Bang Theory. It has been remounted by original director Joe Mantello for what was to be a two-city engagement that first played Los Angeles before arriving in San Francisco. News that Hayes will be returning An Act of God to Broadway for a summer run makes the current engagement here both a post- and pre-New York run.

Hayes, who played the giddily silly Jack McFarland on Will & Grace for eight seasons, projects a far different persona from Parsons, who deadpans his way through The Big Bang Theory as the socially awkward but brainy Sheldon. If there were any doubt that the play, virtually a one-man show, would work with so different a personality, it is quickly smote by Hayes' performance. He inhabits the role so fully and merrily in his own way that it's hard to imagine any other actor in it.

Javerbaum, a multi-Emmy Award-winning writer for his work on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, began the road to An Act of God through @TheTweetOfGod, a popular Twitter account that became a book before then emerging as a play. Unsurprisingly, An Act of God can sometimes feel like a standup comedy routine full of one-liners, albeit funny one-liners, but there are moments when God's wrath is unleashed when certain of his mysterious ways are questioned by his two onstage assistants (James Gleason and David Josefsberg). In that way, Javerbaum can avoid having God answer such notions as why he allows suffering.

But there are also times when the play can be unexpectedly thought-provoking and poignant, with quick tiptoes into more provocative matters. These can include moments of intentional tastelessness for gasp-producing laughs and groans. "No Holocaust, no Cabaret, " God points out about one of his favorite musicals. And this God is certainly gay-friendly. "Thou shalt not tell others with whom to fornicate" is one of the new commandments.

And God is not always easy on himself. "I made man in my image," he says, "and I'm an asshole."

 

An Act of God will run at the Golden Gate Theatre through April 17. Tickets are $45-$150. Call (888) 746-1799 or go to shnsf.com.