God walks into a psychologist’s office, angry, dejected, and seeking therapy.
Not a bad premise for a two-hander, but what do you do with it? Serious thinky/talkie? Absurdist exploration? Dark comedy?
In Oh My God, Israeli playwright Anat Gov, appears to be grasping at all three treatments without the moves to stick the landing on any of the genres nor the finesse to whip them together into a winning mixed program.
So, it’s a minor miracle that this production, brought to us virtually by Mildred’s Umbrella in collaboration with The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center and filmed by Ricornel Productions manages to deliver some bright spots.
Perhaps the first checkmark in the win column is the fact that this isn’t a zoom reading or audio play, but rather an honest to goodness full production, filmed on stage with multiple camera angles. Yes, the sound is overly tinny and the editing feels jumpy at times, but c’mon folks….in this climate let’s cut our smaller theaters some slack. That Mildred’s Umbrella and ERJCC pulled this off at all deserves celebration.
Back to the play itself (translated from the Hebrew by Anthony Berris and Margalit Rodgers) Gov gives us therapist Ella (Sammi Sicinski), a Jewish woman angry at God for all the cruelties allowed to happen in the world, including her autistic son and the husband who abandoned them. She also gives us God (Rhett Martinez) a damaged and defiant deity trying to work through feelings of jealousy, victimhood, abandonment, anger, and loneliness.
And of course, guilt. This is a Jewish play after all. As such, the myriad of biblical references and stories the pair address in the play are exclusively Old Testament. In fact, the only time God mentions other religions is to complain that the peoples' love now goes to Jesus and Mohammed and their various religious leaders. "They sanctify every crumb that falls from the lips of their priests. Each one says something different about me until I don't even know who I am," whines God.
So yeah, the bias is set.
But if you can shake that off, along with Gov's paper-thin grasp of how a therapist behaves and the thinner writing of how one might react to confronting God in his or her office, there are some truly fascinating moments in the play.
Is God jealous of Eve for taking away Adam’s full attention? Why was man created in the first place? Was it necessary to turn Cain against Abel? Why must God solve issues with violence? And what about poor Job? What was that all about?
It's these discussions that allow both the writing and the actors to shine. While Sicinski's performance couldn't overcome the underwhelming dialogue given to Ella at the start of the play, once the writing turns to matters of scripture and psyche, she digs in nicely.
With stronger dialogue and motivation, Martinez as God fares better throughout the play but especially delivers when confronted by Ella about past faults and misdeeds. We listen intently with the wrestling God must do to own up to the stories we all know. And we wonder along with the pair about how much of our present misdeeds are man's doing or God's.
That all this action takes place in Ella's office seems natural. Director Amelia Rico makes some effort to bring movement to the scenes, although not quite enough to animate the viewing. As a result, the comedy, absurdity, and more serious flashes all have the same feel, flattening each to some extent.
Ultimately Oh My God ends, much like it begins. Shmaltzy and without bite. Gov wants to rake God over the coals but she also wants to provide soothing aloe for the resulting pain.
I'll let her keep her after-burn remedy, I'd rather remember the sizzle.
Oh My God continues through October 25 and can be viewed at erjcchouston.org/theatre. Tickets are free. Donations are appreciated and can be made by visiting mildredsumbrella.com