Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

God Said This

Theatre Review by Jose SolĂ­s - January 29, 2019

Satomi Blair, Emma Kikue, Ako, and Jay Patterson
Photo by James Leynse

"I'm happy. My cancer bring everyone together," exclaims a joyful Masako (Ako) as she lays in her hospital bed surrounded by her husband James (Jay Patterson), and their daughters Sophie (Emma Kikue) and Hiro (Satomi Blair). The line elicits uproarious laughter from the audience injecting the setting with unexpected levity, but for the characters onstage it's a different story. They seem to not know what to do with themselves. James and Hiro, who have been estranged for over a decade, share a quick uncomfortable glance and then look away from each other, while the sweet-natured Sophie stares at her mom with equal measures sympathy and pain. The moment lasts less than a minute but perfectly encompasses the brilliance of Leah Nanako Winkler's God Said This a Primary Stages production, which opened January 29th at the Cherry Lane Theatre. With one line she captures decades worth of quiet suffering, unresolved family issues, and the pervading, almost perverse, nature of maintaining hope when the world is so keen on disillusioning us.

The characters in God Said This will be familiar to those who have seen Winkler's Kentucky, which explored Hiro's return to her hometown after leaving to New York City for a life of professional success, and especially safe distance from her family. In that play, Hiro returns to try and prevent her sister's wedding, since she disapproves of her Christianity and "safe" choices. Anyone who's left their hometown to create themselves anew elsewhere will understand Hiro's plight, her apparent selfishness a mean of self-protection, her desire to stay in a hotel rather than her family home, not so much a display of extravagance, as much as her need to carve a safe space for herself in a place where she never felt truly at home.

When her mother asks her to try and bond with her formerly alcoholic father, Hiro tries to come up with all the reasons why she shouldn't. But can she deny her mom what might be one of her last wishes? Sitting through God Said This I was constantly reminded of something my great-aunt used to say, "nowadays you only see people you like at weddings and funerals," a pithy assessment of how the endless waltz of life and death keeps bringing people together whether they like it or not.

That this review so far has mostly concentrated on Hiro isn't to say that the play revolves around her necessarily. In fact, I'm confident that different critics will focus on different characters, showcasing Winkler's generosity as a playwright both to her audiences and her characters. To say there is something in God Said This for everyone sounds trite, but it's accurate. Perhaps the young woman sitting next to me at the Cherry Lane found Sophie's journey more compelling and memorable, the elderly couple sitting a few rows ahead of me who held hands as the play ended and they exited the theater were probably more engaged with the sweet, strange, romance between James and Masako. As in real life, Winkler knows we're each only the leading characters in our own life stories.

The play delicately weaves together different genres, once again replicating the unpredictability of existence. One moment it's all sitcom-y harmless fun, the next it's ripping your heart out in a haunting memory sequence. The characters' unease with their family lives makes them try to find different ways to connect with each other, which is why when James reveals he's replaced alcohol abuse with a rock collection, it feels like something out of a surrealist film.

Equally laudable is Winkler's treatment of Sophie, the kind of character fiction has usually turned into one of two things: a fanatic seeking to convert everyone around them, or a victim of religious furor waiting to be rescued and removed from that world. In God Said This, Sophie's Christianity is treated with respect, curiosity, and compassion. It wasn't until I found myself jotting down notes on the play that it first crossed my mind I never wondered who Sophie would have voted for in the 2016 election for example, because Winkler allows her characters to transcend the confines of their demographics.

Whether people know these characters beforehand or not, an evening spent with this family at the theater, is an evening where humanity is on display in its rawest form. There are no moments full of the histrionism that hospital bedside plays have made us become accustomed to, there are no sudden epiphanies that change the world from one moment to the next, instead it's all in the seemingly innocuous "little" moments that have a subtle cumulative effect on us. It's often said that the devil is in the details, but Winkler understands that it's God who's hiding there instead, patiently waiting to be found.

God Said This
Through February 15
Primary Stages @ The Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix