What some might call blasphemy, Sarah Daniel calls an irreverent hour and a half laugh.
“He’s not the all loving God that we make him out to be,” Daniel says of Flowertown Underground’s latest production, An Act of God. “That’s pretty much the attitude of God in the entire play. He really doesn’t care.”
Daniel landed the gig that many actors consider the highest of roles — the part of God — in the Summerville theater group’s staging of An Act of God. But this is no Jesus in The Passion of Christ. The deity of An Act of God by comedy writer David Javerbaum is a bit more casual and berating — maybe more like an entity that would be worshiped by the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia than Southern Baptists.
“A thing that I really enjoy [in the play] is the way that God utterly shames the angel Michael and just bullies him,” Daniel says.
An Act of God is a minimal play with three actors and simple staging centered around the man upstairs changing up the 10 commandments. And while the role of God isn’t always played by a woman, in this case, Daniel thinks it’s fitting.
“With the #TimesUp movement and the #MeToo movement, it’s feels like the right moment to have a woman step up and fill the shoes of king of the universe,” Daniel says. “I’ve had quite a few women, particularly in the theater community, tell me how thrilled they are to see a woman playing God.”
Daniel thought it would be a long shot for her to win the audition for God. Patriarchy kind of floweth forth from all things Christian — even in satire it seems.
“Traditionally God is played by a man,” Daniel says. “I read the script before I went to audition, it even refers to a male actor, a man playing [the role]. … I felt [the director] would probably choose a man and go the traditional route. I was really surprised and impressed that he chose a woman.”
Director Erik Brower chose to do the casting blind. It was by sheer will that Daniel won out for the God part. Still, the casting of a woman into the traditionally male role has changed the tone of the comedic higher power.
“We’re setting this more like a stand-up routine,” Brower explains. “People naturally expect certain things from a female stand-up comedian than they do a man. Right off the top there are going to be certain expectations and characteristics. … [Daniel] is playing it so differently than what I had in my head and in a great way.”
While the choice of actor for the main role might have been unforeseen, choosing to do this play was quite intentional for Brower. He wanted something that was different than his last work, a 20-actor Shakespeare production. Deeper yet, An Act of God brought up questions that he saw reflected in his own life.
“It really matches my experience as an adult and being brought up in a very Christian household and taking everything with my faith and my personal journey and how that’s changed,” Brower says. “It’s going to make people laugh and my hopes are that it’s going to make people think, ‘Oh why do we believe this? Are we not just believing what we’re told? Can we still believe in this and yet ground it in our own logic and morals?'”
So what about those unsuspecting believers that walk into a play looking to have their holy inspiration reinvigorated only to find it slandered — their whole world view crushed? Brower is a bit worried about that actually happening.
“Not every play is for everyone,” Brower says. “I think the playwright does a great job of easing the audience into the style of humor so that when it does go for that heavier stuff it’s not shocking.”
Daniel is also considering that stones might be cast at her for such heresy as a woman playing a narcissistic Jehovah.
“It does worry me a little bit,” Daniel says. “This is in the heart of Summerville. It’s a different demographic … I don’t worry so much about people coming up to me particularly and saying I’m going to hell. I really don’t care what they say. I’m an actor.”
And if those whose sensibilities were so inflamed encountered the God Daniel plays that deity’s words wouldn’t be much different from her own.
“‘So what? Who cares,'” Daniel says would be God’s word.
And the word was good.