Ass-Boils of the Lord

Neil Simon not worse than painful afflictions

You know what's bad? Throbbing rectal boils. But the Garden Grove Playhouse's production of Neil Simon's play God's Favorite (the Biblical tale of Job, by way of a Long Island cardboard-box magnate) is nowhere near as difficult to sit through as a really rippin' case of throbbing rectal boils. Sure, it's got some sore spots that'll get you wiggling anxiously in your seat, but there are extremely important differences: you'll laugh a lot more, you'll fall asleep less, and you'll be able to stride comfortably away after only two hours.

Job, you heathens may or may not recall, was that hapless guy whom God tortured just to prove a point, as well as to determine exactly how many throbbing rectal boils it takes to get a devout Jew to finally mutter, "You know what? Fuck this." It's possible there are deeper issues of faith and character bubbling under the desperate ass-rubbing and high-holy hijinks in this play, but this production (directed by Nick Cook) shoots for a breezier interpretation of the gospel according to Neil. It's a sweetly sitcom-style take on one of the Bible's more gruesome moments, and although the spitfire New York wit doesn't quite translate intact to the measured, chirpy cadences of sedate Garden Grove (sedate except for that certain bitter, defeated ex-you-know-who, of course), this production is still a perky if overlong way to get the fear of God back in you.

Stanford Godbey is perfectly cast as Joe Benjamin (he who endureth, among other trials, the ass-boils of the Lord) and possesses tight comic timing, hilariously elastic body language and the frazzled incredulity necessary to play noble foil to Sidney Lipton (Don Ellis), the staidly kooky messenger of God who lets Benjamin know that his life is about to go straight to hell. Joshua Nettinga and Isabella Melo deliver delightfully over-the-top performances as Joe's earnest twins, but other cast members could do with a little more energy: when Ellis in particular is hot, he's practically (and in one special-effects tour de force, literally) on fire, but otherwise the crucial comic dynamic between he and Godbey slumps at inopportune times. And in a play that already clocks in at a troubling 2.5 on the old-people-nodding-off-o-meter, the last thing you need is any more slumping.

But Simon's dialogue still has its moments, and this cast can still tease the laughs out of God's Favorite. Godbey's personality and drive is infectious, and even when the production drags, his able performance pulls everything else along. So it's a little clunky, but it still beats a good case of the throbbing rectal boils, and—really—can you ask any more of a Saturday night?

GOD'S FAVORITE AT GARDEN GROVE PLAYHOUSE, 12001 ST. MARK ST., GARDEN GROVE, (714) 897-5122; WWW.GEOCITIES.COM/ GARDENGROVEPLAYHOUSE. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH MARCH 24. $10; $9 FOR SENIORS AND STUDENTS.

 
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