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God Shows Up

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - February 10, 2019

Christopher Sutton
Photo by Andy Evan Cohen

Televangelist Thomas Isaac Rehan has scored quite a programming coup, with a very very very special guest scheduled to appear on the broadcast from his sprawling megachurch and compound in a former St. Louis, Missouri stadium. Yes, squeezed in among the promos for Catch Up With Jesus Ketchup and Rugged Cross Air Fresheners will be none other than the Lord of Hosts Himself/Herself/Themselves, in Peter Filichia's new play God Shows Up, opening tonight at The Playroom Theater.

Filichia, best known as a theater historian and critic, is surely preaching to the choir with this satirical jab at the likes of Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson, or when he establishes the audience members as honored guests for the event, our distinguishing characteristic being our generous contributions to Rehan's Interfaith Church. So, low-hanging fruit it is, but fortunately blessed with a talented trinity of Equity actors.

Christopher Sutton, in particular, excels as the puffed-up Rehan, a man who is seldom at a loss for words and who will never forego an opportunity to shill for donations even when chatting with God. And while he may be as phony as a three-dollar bill, the minister seems to be an expert on the Christian Bible, the Torah, and the Qur'an, all of which he can readily quote, chapter and verse.

When God (played in His male incarnation by Lou Liberatore) shows up for their on-air conversation, He appears in the form of a laid-back middle-aged guy dressed in jeans and a Henley. "I have a feeling you thought I'd be wearing a long white robe," He says in response to the look of surprise on the face of the Bruno Cuccinelli-suited Rehan. He then turns to us and remarks, "So, you sold tickets."

Thus a lightly acerbic tone is set for the first half of the 80-minute play. Televangelism is its first target, especially as it relates to the vast amount of tax-free wealth that is often accumulated from tapping into a network of adherents such as, apparently, ourselves. Not too difficult to make the point when the aforementioned Catch Up With Jesus Ketchup and Rugged Cross Air Fresheners are actual products, as are the Jesus Loves You Flip-Flops and Armor of God Pajamas that Rehan hawks every few minutes.

But after the midpoint, and with the addition of a female version of God (played by Maggie Bofill), the dialog becomes more pointed. Still maintaining a light tone while praising the virtues of chocolate, the Yiddish language, and sex, God also disavows us of misconceptions about familiar Bible stories, champions free will, praises believers and non-believers alike, and decries the wide range of atrocities and demands for obedience that are perpetuated in His/Her/Their name. You needn't worry as an audience member about being upbraided or being put on the spot, however. God's growing impatience and wrath are directed at Rehan, who, it seems, has been not entirely forthcoming about his own history. And if it takes a tornado and a hurricane to shake out the truth, so be it.

Overall, God Shows Up contributes a new slant to the eternal debate over the role and influence of religiosity in our lives. While a little excessive with the many tossed-off jokes, the playwright, Mr. Filichia, has added to the discussion by bringing in the point of view of a cleverly-conceptualized Divine Presence, sort of answering the rhetorical question: What would Jesus (or any other Name you'd care to substitute) do? At least from one perspective, now you know.

God Shows Up
Through February 21
The Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street, just east of 7th Avenue
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule:

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