Sometimes the stars just seem to align. How weirdly coincidental is it that, in the midst of the death throes of Twitter, New Paltz’s Denizen Theatre is gearing up to present a production of a comedy written by the mind behind one of the most popular satirical accounts on that particular social medium?
We’re talking, of course, about @TheTweetOfGod, David Javerbaum’s delightful string of daily zingers tossed from the electronic firmament since 2010, when he left his gig as head writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where he won 11 of his 13 Emmy Awards. Originally created to promote a book called The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, the Twitter feed consists of pronouncements purportedly by the Almighty Himself – or as Javerbaum once described him, “the cranky old man on the lawn of the universe.” It went viral on its own, outpacing the popularity of the book and ultimately amassing 6.2 million followers. Sadly, God made His final tweet on November 19, but He has already announced his Second Coming on Mastodon, at https://universeodon.com/@TheTweetOfGod.
Twitter’s “unverified” version of God rarely engaged with followers and followed no one Himself except Justin Bieber. His usual mood was despair over how poorly His worshipers were misinterpreting His intent and twisting His instructions to justify cruel and foolish behavior. His sarcasm was aimed mainly at religious hypocrites of any faith; but He had plenty to spare for antimaskers, antivaxxers, climate-deniers, antiscience types in general, conspiracy theorists and bigots of all varieties. Around this time one year ago, He tweeted, “This Thanksgiving I’m grateful to those who don’t believe in Me for trying to protect the world from those who do.”
So successful was @TheTweetOfGod that Javerbaum turned it into a podcast, wrote a second book, The Book of Pslams [misspelled intentionally]: 97 Divine Diatribes on Humanity’s Total Failure, and in 2015, a stage version, titled An Act of God. The latter is the show that opens at Denizen this Friday, November 25 and runs through December 23. Opening night is already sold out, and “Presales are up 70 percent,” according to executive director Kirsty Gaukel; so, getting your tickets sooner rather than later would be a divine idea.
Hudson Valley One was privileged to get a peek at the play’s backdrop (fluffy clouds against a blue sky, natch) and an opportunity to chat with director Scott Alan Evans and actor Karl Kenzler, who plays God. Also in the cast are David Keohane and Christa Rapaglia as the archangels Michael and Gabriel, respectively. Lighting design is by Tim J. Lord, set design by Jacob Brown, sound design by Julian Blackmore, costume design by Brian Donoghue and production stage management by Cal Langston.
While Javerbaum’s politics clearly lean a little left-of-center, both Evans and Kenzler emphasize that An Act of God is meant for a broad audience: believers and unbelievers alike, as long as they have a sense of humor. “There’s nothing mean-spirited about it,” says Evans. “If you’re a far-right fundamentalist extremist, you might not like this play. But anyone who’s a Christian in the best sense of the word will love it.”
Kenzler is looking forward to performing it for his brother, an evangelical Christian who’s also a Jon Stewart fan. “It’s so lovingly satirical that you can’t get upset,” he notes. “Liberals take a few good hits in this as well. As God says, ‘You are all equally smiteful in My eyes.’” Kenzler also plans to bring his children, aged 8 and 11, and describes the play as “kid-friendlyish. There’s some strong language, but it’s biblical.”
Structurally, the play is “not just rapid-patter jokes,” he says. “It’s an exploration of what it would feel like to be the most powerful person in the universe. God has no one to tell Him ‘No.’ Even despots have that. So, he has to deal with the license that gives you and the danger that it presents.”
“The play is not standup,” Evans agrees. “It has a beautiful arc that God goes on.” “An arc bigger than Noah’s,” Kenzler quips. “The whole premise of the play is, ‘I gave you Ten Commandments and you blew it, so I’m giving you ten new ones.’ But God is also partly culpable.” Adds Evans, “God has some moments of self-realization, and He’s appalled.”
Since Javerbaum’s humor tends toward the highly topical and the play was written seven years ago, one piece of preparation for a production of An Act of God involves tweaking some of its political and pop-culture references, the way modern Savoyard companies slip contemporary issues into Gilbert and Sullivan revivals. “It’ll be interesting to see what references remain,” Evans observes.
“You can always fill in the blank,” notes Kenzler. “There’s always a Donald Trump.” He adds that every performance of the play includes a reference to God’s decision to visit the particular community where it’s being staged, so, “Mention will be made of New Paltz.”
It sounds as if locals owe it to themselves to attend this show and find out where exactly they’ve been found wanting by the Most High. His takeaway message, though, is, “You’re gonna be okay. Be kind to each other,” according to Kenzler. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be saved.”
An Act of God will be performed from November 26 through December 23 at the Denizen Theatre, located in the upper level of the Water Street Market in downtown New Paltz. Shows begin at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, plus one Wednesday, December 21, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The one-act performance lasts about 80 minutes, with no intermission. Ticket prices are $28 general admission, $25 for seniors, $5 for students. To order or learn more, visit www.denizentheatre.com/an-act-of-god.