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Acts of God

Last year, Peter Fox's one-act play God Knows was produced. Now, God Knows is the first act and play-within-a-play in a new show, Acts of God. In Acts of God, the "author" of God Knows, a character named Peter Renard (get it?) is courted by the television industry to give up on meaningful playwriting and instead write mediocre sitcoms for a massive amount of money. The result is a comedy about the "industry," selling out, and what bad television does to a good play.

Because God Knows is a good play. It involves a Catholic man who takes his Jewish girlfriend to see his priest in the hopes the priest can talk the girlfriend out of having an abortion. What would be a heavy debate about life and religion takes a comic turn when God appears in the form of casually dressed, modern-day black man who answers their request for an identity-confirming miracle with, "Why do I have to be Siegfried and Roy to make you people believe in me?" Played by Cary Thompson with the intensity of a Supreme Being who really wants his subjects to see the light, God questions and challenges the three people, trying to get them to understand the divine viewpoint.

It's funny watching the three interact with God; after all, if God agrees with you, you've pretty much won the debate. But part of the charm of God Knows is that the play refuses to give away the answers. Sure, God takes everyone down a peg, but he never actually says whether abortion is acceptable in his eyes, or which (if any) religion has it right. God Knows is a cute little play with some genuinely funny moments, which doesn't take itself seriously enough to offend anyone's beliefs.

Acts of God
Greg Forshay, Brennan Byers,
Jessica Randle, and Cary Thompson

So Acts of God gets a little problematic when Renard, the supposed playwright of God Knows does take the play too seriously. When the big Hollywood producer (played as a money-hungry, skirt-chasing Garry Marshall caricature by Bob Neches) tells Renard that God Knows would never make a good sitcom because it is too controversial, it's pretty funny, because only a studio exec trying to appeal to the broadest demographic would find something objectionable in the light comedy of God Knows. But when Renard characterizes his script as a thought-provoking "morality play," something is amiss.

Acts of God spends a lot of time having Renard debate the validity of the ideas expressed in God Knows - with the producer, with a disgruntled audience member, and (at one point) with God her(!)self. The philosophical debates aren't bad in and of themselves, but there is an awkwardness to them, as though (underlying) playwright Fox feels it necessary to put onstage the discussions he thinks his one-act should be prompting.

Acts of God also has some pacing problems. Its third act takes place in a television studio where the producer is taping a demo of a sitcom based on God Knows. The act, however, runs a full half hour before the sitcom actually begins - choosing instead to sidetrack into another debate on the religious accuracy of God Knows and some interminable vamping by the producer when his warmup act disappears on him. Again, the dialogue isn't bad in and of itself - in fact, one of the producer's lines had me laughing so hard I nearly wept - but it isn't right for this play at this point. The audience has been set up for a purely farcical third act, in which we see the good play of act one transformed into a horrible sitcom for the "WUP" network. Stopping for another digression into religion slows the otherwise zippy comic pace of the show, and allowing the producer to go on as long as he does just makes the audience impatient for the comedy we've been promised.

Acts of God has tremendous potential. Its premise is unusual, and its writing is frequently downright funny. It just needs to strike a better balance between its funny scenes and its defensive playwright subplot.

Vulpine Productions in association with The Actors Workout Studio present a Jenine Smith production, Acts of God by Peter Fox. Producer Jenine Smith; Director Peter Fox; Stage Manager Jenine Smith; Lighting Designer Russ Ketteringham; Sound Designer Peter Fox; Sound Production Jeff Hull; Booth Operator Brett Radford; Publicity Philip Sokoloff.

Cast:
Act 1: God Knows
Ruth - Jessica Randle
Joe - Greg Forshay
God - Cary Thompson
Father Mike - Brennan Byers
Act 2: God's Nose
Peter Renard - Joel Stoffer
Sid Markowitz - Bob Neches
Waitress - Minda Burr
Act 3: God Noes
Cary - Cary Thompson
Booth - Brett Radford
Sid Markowitz - Bob Neches
Cherry Lamontagne/"Cissy" - Bridget Nelson
Ted Flern/"Biff" - Matt Corboy
Moishe Hurtz/"Rabbi Shlomo" - David Keats
Washington Jefferson/"Almighty" - Tim Starks
Peter Renard - Joel Stoffer
Dan - Joe Mellis

Acts of God runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., at the Actors Workout Studio in North Hollywood through November 10. Tickets: $15. For reservations and information, call (818) 506-3903. Photo by April Rocha


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- Sharon Perlmutter




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