“What do you believe in,” Dianne Keaton asks Woody Allen in his great 1973 comedy Sleeper. “Sex,” he replies witha straight face, “and death. But at least after death you’re not nauseous.” This is Allen in a nutshell: a semi-profound, if cynical, observation, with a punch line wrapped in risque self-deprecation. God; A Comedy in One Act, which first appeared in Allen’s 1957 book Without Feathers, is currently playing at Solstice Theater, and it’s a surprisingly durable little laugh-getter.
The play is set in ancient Greece—but with all the anachronistic gags, names like “Diabetes” and “Hepatitis,” and open acknowledgement of the audience, it’s clear that the real setting is this theater here and now. Director Stephanie Graham has done a fine job updating Allen’s Manhattan-centric references to Brewtown, has nourished an attitude of fun in her cast, and keeps the action fast and lively. The story (such as it is) concerns a writer and an actor trying to come up with an ending for an entry in the Athenian Drama festival, winning them fame, fortune, and possibly a chance of getting laid. Allen really mixes things up, bringing characters out of the audience, putting characters into the audience, and including cameo appearances by Blanche Dubois, Stanley Kowalski, Groucho Marx, and himself (via phone). In the process, the players discuss Man’s eternal questions: does life have meaning? Do we make our own choices? Is our morality dependent on divine will? And if there is no God, what’s to prevent men from randomly ripping pretty women’s clothes off on the street?
Sophomoric, yes. But remember, in Greek, “sophomore” means “wise fool.” It doesn’t hurt to come in with a sophomore-level familiarity with Samuel Beckett, Aristotle’s Poetics, and Nietzsche (though this is hardly necessary to enjoy the show). The play inhabits a (male) college-kid’s world of profound questions and incessant horniness, before life and marriage reduce them to banality. It’s still very funny, and Soulstice takes a good stab at it. Joe Dolan, as the actor, is a perfect Woody Allen protagonist, striking exactly the right air of bemused anxiety; Tim Kietzman, as the writer, at least seems to be taking his motives seriously; Maz Williamson is a hoot as a huckster who has invented a deus ex machina device to wow the judges and win the prize. Aaron Shricker’s well-chosen musical selections contribute a sense of fun seasoned with weltschmertz.
Unfortunately, too much of the production substitutes mere silliness for actual humor, which depends on its protagonists actually feeling their comic predicaments. For instance, the choice to costume the Greeks in togas made of novelty print bedsheets is a cute idea, but detracts from the satire rather than adds to it. Toy foam-rubber swords emphasize goofy farce, but take away from the sense of comic danger. When people goof it up onstage in silly costumes, we are, at best, amused. In a slight vehicle like this, it’s hardly an artistic crime, though, and many people will enjoy this production without knowing what they missed. But really—all actors and directors should have this quote posted up somewhere: “Dying is easy—comedy is hard.”
God; A Comedy in One Act
by Woody Allen
January 31-February 8
Fridays and Saturdays