Eternity Playhouse, February 6


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Michell Butel does a spot of decreeing. Photo: Phil Erbacher.

Religion has to be humanity’s single most catastrophic invention. With its decrees and wars measured in lives lost, children orphaned, women raped, bodies tortured and hearts wracked with guilt and malice, it makes greed, weapons manufacturing and even nuclear bombs look as benign as soup spoons. So writer David Javerbaum – a decade-long associate of comedian Jon Stewart, among other credentials – was on fertile soil when he created the Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod, satirising the edicts of the Almighty. Not only did it attract four million followers, it begat this play.

This, like Creation itself, was both good and bad. The premise is loaded with promise: God comes down from heaven in human form to spend 75 minutes in a theatre – where better than Eternity Playhouse? – to explain how he knocked up the universe in six days, and why he was so grouchy in the Old Testament days, indulging in so much damned smiting. Javerbaum is certainly clever enough milk his premise of some of its hilarity, but where we might have expected gales of it we get a few genuinely rib-tickling gusts, many light breezes and rather more draughty moments where the script leaks the laughs it should have spawned. Javerbaum even commits the unpardonable sin of failing to provide adequate punchlines for set-ups screaming for them. The play is really a revue sketch stretched somewhat closer to eternity than he can sustain.

None of this leakage can be blamed on the production. Co-directed by Richard Carroll and Mitchell Butel (for Darlinghurst Theatre Company), this has Butel playing God for all he is worth (which is a bit), and, verily, shining more brightly than the text.

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Alan Flower, Mitchell Butel and Laura Murphy. Photo: Phil Erbacher.

Javerbaum’s God is narcissistic, egocentric, power-mad, vengeful, irrational and easily bored – and this was penned before Trump became president! Butel’s characterisation helps make a potentially unsavoury deity into a more delicious one. His timing, expressions and emphases often turn watery gags into wine-soaked wit as he imparts snippets of godliness. These include “Amen” being his favourite word, as it spells the end of another pestering prayer, confessing to “wrath management issues” and that smiting, judging and terrorizing are the family business – something Jesus just didn’t get.Of course when God is your central character the other roles are decidedly finite, with Laura Murphy a feisty archangel Gabriel and Alan Flower a gormless, brow-beaten archangel Michael. They are just there to feed God’s gag lines and flaunt exquisite wings.

In fact a bigger role is played by designer Charles Davis’s creation: a white stairway to heaven, brilliantly incorporating the Eternity’s past incarnation as Burton Street Tabernacle. Half way up the steps lies a dazzlingly white couch replete with cloud-shaped cushions, and on this Butel can flounce and perch while boasting about afflicting the world with pestilence and floods, and while telling us how much he loathes sporting boofheads and their ilk forever thanking Him, when He couldn’t give a toss about mortals kicking goals.

Towards the end Javerbaum dares to flirt with seriousness, telling us that “Jesus died for God’s sins” and, concluding his revamped Commandments, “Thou shalt not believe in me” and “Thou shalt believe in thyself”. Of course we’ve also been sternly warned that “it would be a sin not to buy the ‘merch'”. It’s just a shame that the play isn’t quite witty enough to make you rush to do that all by your self-believing self. A shame, too, that the angels’ wings weren’t for sale. They probably wouldn’t have fitted, anyway…