- Brenda Thomas plays an “ambassador to the Almighty” in Pollard Theatre Company’s production of An Act of God.
Pollard Theatre Company opens its 32nd season Friday with An Act of God, a thought-provoking comedy directed by Timothy Stewart. Though the play debuted in New York City in 2015, this is Stewart’s first time directing it and the first time it will be performed in Oklahoma.
Pollard’s press release describes the play as an “irreverent, sinfully funny new comedy … written by God and transcribed by David Javerbaum.”
Javerbaum worked as a writer and producer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, earning him 13 Emmy Awards over the course of his career. He also runs @TheTweetofGod, a popular Twitter account that has amassed over 5 million followers.
These tweets provided a source of inspiration for the play, a basis the show’s artistic director, W. Jerome Stevenson, found particularly comical.
“We don’t know what God is like. … And I thought, ‘Boy, it would really be compelling to kind of sit and talk with God for an hour,’” Stevenson said. “This is a fun example of how that conversation might surprise you and what that conversation might look and sound like and how it may completely blow your mind in terms of what you were expecting.”
After entering the body of a chosen ambassador, God converses with the audience alongside two wingmen, archangels Michael and Gabriel, in a 90-minute monologue that is quite literally An Act of God.
The purpose of the divine visit is to deliver to mankind a refined version of the commandments allegedly given to Moses thousands of years before.
“[God] goes back and says, ‘You’re taking these Ten Commandments. You’ve been debating them and interpreting, and you’re getting it wrong. This is the message that I want to give you,’” said Brenda Williams, the actor filling the role of ambassador to the Almighty. “It’s honestly as if God himself came down and started calling us on all of our crap.”
Williams was a member during Pollard’s founding in 1997 and works as a middle school teacher. After reading the original script, she passed it along to Stevenson, who thought the play would be the perfect fit for the theater and its upcoming season.
Aside from a few minor variations, the production will remain true to its original rendition.
“The director has a vision, and then it is always changing because you have different actors and they have a creative process themselves,” Stewart said. “And so as you create your vision, you have to incorporate everyone else’s vision too and try to bring it all together into one cohesive unit.”
Of these variations, one of the greatest is the decision to use a woman as God’s medium.
“Other than there’s a woman playing God, it’s staying pretty much the same,” Williams said. “He speaks through human form, which happens to be me. So even though I’m playing God, I’m actually playing myself playing God.”
Stevenson believes that if God were to choose an ambassador, the individual would be both recognizable and a pleasant conversationalist. To this end, he felt Williams was the ideal candidate for the role.
The director has also taken care to avoid complicated scenes, shying away from elaborate sets and musical numbers, relying more heavily on dialogue and interpersonal connection. During the show, Gabriel will read off God’s commandments and Michael will take questions from the audience.
The uproarious production is also designed to challenge audience members to reflect upon some of their own beliefs and rationales.
“Hopefully in the process of laughing, you’ll do a little bit of thinking because it’s also a little bit provocative,” Stevenson said.
But provocation does not imply controversy. To mitigate offenses, prospective viewers are encouraged to read about the play before attending.
“Theater is there to make you think,” Stewart said.
Williams earnestly expressed her hope for viewers to “come with an open mind and an open heart and listen to what’s being said and take the message away with them.”
“Don’t rely on God for everything,” she said. “Try to stand on your own two feet.”
The message, albeit presented through a comedic medium, is of a more serious nature. Those who attend expecting a religious doctrine will likely be met with surprise. Still, Stevenson and Stewart don’t believe the performance is controversial. Rather, they find it to be both informative and enjoyable.
“We are not downplaying anybody’s personal beliefs or calling anyone’s faults out. What we’re doing is asking a broader question about how we work as human beings,” Stevenson said. “I instantly resonated with that because I thought there are lots of ways I can be better that have nothing to do with the time that I spend in the pew. It has everything to do with the way that I interact with the other human beings I’m blessed to be on this planet with.”