Woody Allen’s “God” asks big ideas and scores big laughs
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If ever there is such a thing as an existential “romp,” it’s Woody Allen’s God, an absurd one-act comedy totally befitting of a theater company called Chaos, which is performing it at Onyx Theatre.
Where do I begin? The play itself, which focuses on the very dilemma of beginnings, would likely suggest I begin at the end and work my way backwards. But I’ll start in the middle: Ever had a dream where you’re suddenly surrounded by a flash mob, and you’re the only one not in the know? Or, there you are, minding your own business, eating popcorn and taking in a play at some off-Strip theater, when suddenly everyone seems to be part of the show except you? That’s kind of what God is like.
When the curtains open upon two Greek thespians, the Actor and the Writer, played by Shane Cullum and Mick Axelrod, respectively, they’re bickering strategies for creating a prize-winning play (the prize being a case of ouzo), which serves as the main play’s flimsy framework. (Disclaimer: Cullum and Axelrod are the only mentionable actors here. Not because there wasn’t a cast of at least eight, but because theirs are the only names on the show flier, making it easier to focus on the play itself.)
While the play tackles dilemmas worthy of Sartre or Camus — what is real? What happens when we die? Is there a god? — the 60-minute, slapsticky firestorm of a script is classic Woody Allen, filled with clever asides, unexpected character cameos (including Allen himself and Blanche DuBois, playing alongside Diabetes, Hepatitis and Trichinosis), and gobs of offbeat observations on religion, politics, the nature of man and where to get the best Chinese takeout.
The major gag of this 25-year-old play (published in Allen’s Without Feathers, a book I recommend if you dig his neurotic humor) is that it’s totally malleable, full of Mad Libs-style “insert your city/local college/dangerous neighborhood here” jokes that not only break down the invisible fourth wall, but demolish it. The script refers directly to the audience, and the actors engage with, question and even taunt us.
And just when it starts getting boring or annoying, Allen himself jumps in to rectify the situation. In a nutshell, the play is wacky, it never takes itself too seriously — it’s pleased as punch to score the easy laugh — and it has more of the lighthearted feel of an improv comedy show than capital-T theater.