Part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival
Review by Ashley Hutchinson
When left with the tagline “what if God and the Devil wrote a musical?” One can know little of what to expect. Sure, biblical references would be abundant, and perhaps the source material would be a tad overused, but when I sat down at the June Havoc theatre on Saturday, July 19th at 8:50 p.m. fear became instilled in me. What would happen if God and the Devil wrote a musical? The end result, in Omar Hansen’s eyes, is a cabaret or variety show of sorts, hosted by God and the Devil themselves.
The task of playing God, surprisingly enough, isn’t the hardest part when putting the big man upstairs onstage. The real problem lies with how to discover one’s inner Devil, and make it translate. Tyrell Clement plays the role of Lucius Bielzy, or to simplify, Satan. Clement is tall and slender—perfectly snake like—and his menacing facial hair does the trick (things are so much better with menacing facial hair). Clement exhibits an impressive ability to be charming yet evil, keeping the sociopathic wit of the devil alive throughout the performance and I would argue keeping the show rolling forward. Would it be insulting to say that this man was meant to play the role of Satan? The writer of the play, Omar Hansen, plays the part of Joshua Gottfried, or God. Hansen does not particularly shine when put beside the imposing Clement, but then, the Devil would command the stage so this dynamic proves realistic, or, as realistic as it can be.
The show goes from there starting with the story of Adam and Eve, put to a new context of Pandora’s box. This conflict of whether to open the box or not keeps an effective suspense and forward motion, so much so that midway through this skit I asked myself how I was still so invested in the issue at hand. Adam, played by Zachary Marchello and Eve, played by a very genuine Rose Fiona Kiernan, kept the momentum up with their conflict of interest, but the moderator of this, in the form of a snake, really stole the scene. One of the surprising twists that Hansen threw into the mix was his decision not to write Bielzy into this scene as the snake, or tempter of Eve, but rather created a snake character that would later become the minstrel for the show. Jacob Chapman quite literally pops out of Pandora’s box and captures the scene. Chapman’s witty snake rendition is not one of evil as one would expect, but one of simple conviction on the consequences of opening the box, and hilarious one-liners. Chapman posses a charm that breaths total life into his character, who really only speaks in one scene, yet is a watchful presence throughout the entire show. One of the most difficult hurdles to jump as an actor is the problem of watching action onstage when one is not the focal point, so on Chapman’s ability to do so I was quite impressed.
The show went on to an introduction of another scene by our hosts, Bielzy and Gottfried, and then to a scene on throwing stones. The plot of this scene didn’t have as clear an objective as that of Pandora’s box, and at times felt muddled. Bielzy’s fervent insistence on his knowledge of John McCarthy was fiery and Spencer Thayne’s eager receptionist character reminded me of a smiling tap dancing Mormon: the two put together proved an ironic and clever mix, which carried me through the confusion.
Then came a scene expressly about loving sin, and I have to say I was glad someone finally brought it up. Lori Prescott Hansen, playing the role of Sister Prescott, began her segment of the show as a nervous wreck of a woman, forced by the pastor (played by Omar Hansen) to give a speech on pride in front of her entire church. The result was a hilarious and well-delivered speech, relaying the ‘truth;’ that she loves gossip, hates her husband, and likes the gays. Hansen’s performance was brilliantly unrefined and cathartic and allowed for a lighthearted shift in the show.
This lighthearted turn, however, quickly dissipates in the second act of the show, and the mood turns dim. The fun skits in the first act don’t seem to belong with the two large scenes in the second. The shift wasn’t unwelcome; simply a sharp left turn from the expected. The idea of putting an “audience member” onstage in the second act is fresh and really exciting, even if planned. The point in bringing Jon Peter Lewis onstage was to create a new story of Job, in which a man is put through pain and tragedy and is confronted with the choice to stay with God or to give up on a holy life. The end of the scene is hopeful, and Hansen’s rendition of God comes more to the forefront as he and Clement’s Satan shake hands (surprisingly) and admit their enjoyment in working together.
However supporting Hansen seemed to be throughout most of the play, he really shows his ability in the final scene, in which he plays a now dead, disillusioned abusive father. Hansen’s performance is astounding and the back and forth between this man and his son (played by Joe Lawless) is loving yet strained. The father/son dynamic is really moving, and when underscored by a four-woman quartet, it becomes haunting. However moving and beautiful the scene was, however, the ordering between the two scenes in the second act did not seem quite intuitive and could have contributed to the last scene not quite landing.
Bielzy and Gottfried say their goodbyes to the audience after a clipped ending to a very heavy scene. Regardless, the show was a very enjoyable one with very diverse talent: with a witty beginning, and a thought-provoking end, Bielzy and Gottfried proved to be a charming and meaningful piece which managed to make the bible less dry and more dry-humored.