Broadway Review: 'An Act of God'

Lindsay Timmington

  • OnStage New York Critic
  • Twitter: @timmingto

The night before I saw “Act of God” at the Booth Theatre I had a dream that I was doing a one woman show. I stood center stage when the lights went up and then promptly forgot every bit of the show. An awkward five or so dream minutes passed where I stared at the audience and they stared back at me.  I racked my brain trying to think of my first line, second line, last line—ANY line in the show. Eventually I stopped trying and bailed. Left the stage. Woke up. 

“Act of God” is the second “one man” show I’ve seen recently, “Fully Committed” being the first. I have mixed feelings about one-person shows. As a performer, they terrify me. There’s no one to rely on if the ship goes down and as someone who suffers from stage fright, that’s terrifying. As an audience member I find them to be a little narcissistic and self-important. With two, one-man shows on Broadway right now I can’t help but feel that these scripts both draw and demand celebrity performers to sell tickets and reinforce the idea that this type of theater is a little self-indulgent and often misses the mark. 

The last show I’d seen at the Booth theatre (where “Act of God”) was “Hand to God”— a show I saw twice and brayed with laughter even the second time round. “Hand to God” drew boundaries and then unabashedly trampled them from start to finish. Every line crossed was more shocking than the last and the result was a pretty impressive, hilariously thought-provoking night of theatre.

If “Hand to God” was boundary-bashing, then “Act of God” toed the line like a child testing a parent. Truthfully, I was only there for Sean Hayes and his particular style of humor, but we only caught glimpses of that. My suspicion is, the script or the director didn’t afford him the opportunity to do what he does best, because while he paved comic moments—while I could actually see him pushing for moments to let his specific brand of humor and performance in— the script killed every bit of momentum he got—things just seemed to fall flat instead of lift off. 
“Act of God” is a contemporary take on the Ten Commandments. I expected a no holds barred dive into irreverence and equal opportunity offensiveness, but the show just felt adolescent, tired and safe.  If I’m spending $100 and 90 minutes in a theatre watching a show about religion, my preference is not safe. I’ve chosen to go to the theatre, not church. Their shallow attempt at sacrilegious humor was paired with dramatic moments that just felt altogether out of place. In this context, where the playwright appears to be taking aim at all things Christianity (and then some) he often misses the mark, throwing in moments I think were meant to be profoundly philosophical but read as trite and half-hearted. The whole show felt inconsequential and not at all worth the time or money.

If my dreams are any indication—I find the prospect of performing a one-person show very daunting and a little terrifying. And while I certainly appreciate and respect the work, physicality and focus it takes to perform solo onstage for 90 minutes— I can’t help but feel that “Act of God” only proved that many solo pieces are more about sprinting to the standing ovation rather than truthful, meaningful connection to story and audience.