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HT Review: When God calls, he might just want a little help

Herald Times | Connie Shakalis

October 27, 2019

Not to be confused with the 1977 film "Oh, God!," an American comedy starring George Burns and John Denver, "Oh (no comma) God," the play by the late Anat Gov, is also a comedy and is playing at The Jewish Theatre of Bloomington.

The Israeli playwright died in her 50s in 2012 and, knowing death was coming, had planned her funeral. Her "Oh God" grabs death, humanism, atheism and Judaism, along with some other topics, by the wrists and lets go only in the last two, satisfying, minutes of this 85-minute play, directed by Dale McFadden.

Sometimes we show our best selves during tribulation, which happens with all three of this witty play's characters. Ella (Julie Dixon) works as a psychologist. She is struggling to raise, alone, her son, Lior (Ron Kalinovsky), as her husband left her for a less complicated life: Lior is on the autism spectrum and has never, at age 16, spoken a single word. Nor is he expected to.

Ella is particularly glum one morning. She has been watching too much "Shrek" with Lior, plus here in Tel Aviv no rain has fallen in weeks. She hears a knock at the door, and past the pots of wilting thirsty roses and through the low front gate, strolls a dapper — his lapel even sports a red rose similar to Ella's potted ones — gentleman (Ken Farrell). Oddly (and foretellingly), he wears the exact same suit and hat worn by a man in several pictures in Ella's and Lior's living room. This man, however, has come seeking psychotherapy. This one may challenge Ella's skills, because he claims to have been depressed for the past 2,000 years.

But how to treat him? Or — Him? He, it turns out, is God.

Anat Gov adroitly entwines passages from the Old Testament through dialogue between God-rejecting Ella and people-rejecting God. Ella blames God for the copious suffering he has wrought: Treblinka, starvation in the desert, exile, to name three. And, what, she asks, about his allowing Cane to kill Abel, accusing God of stirring up trouble on that front.

"You've got a history of violence," she reminds him. God complains to his new therapist about humans' misuse and current destruction of his once perfect world. He expresses sorrow at ever having done what he did "on the sixth day" of creation: the "man" he once loved has turned into a population of self-centered sensualists.

The man sitting near me remarked that therapist and patient come to realize that maybe humans are indeed made in God's image — violent, unforgiving and lacking compassion.

Or are we? Two words are prominent in the script: "compassion" and "power" can explain a lot in our lives.

Kalinovsky gives Lior a realistic quality that shines in all of his scenes, and I see that Lori Tussey is listed in the program as his autism coach. As God, Farrell is funny, desperate and demanding. Dixon makes Ella both relatable and rousing, and her fast-fire questions for God brought forth many of my own Saturday night.

"Psychotherapy is your new God," God complains. Ella allows his rambling grievances because, after all, He was an only child, with no parents, and "needed a friend, somebody to grow up with." Finally, however, she becomes rattled by his unrelenting "self pity." And probably as with most psychotherapy, that's where the healing and self discovery are born.

"Oh God" is a show for believers and atheists alike. Its questions build upon one another and left me with plenty more of my own. My being a theater reviewer aside, who's to say what is good or bad?

"Everybody has a little Satan inside them," Ella says.

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