THE BASICS: OH MY GOD, a play by the Israeli playwright Ms. Anat Gov, in translation, presented by Jewish Repertory Theatre, directed by Saul Elkin, starring Lisa Ludwig, Todd Benzin, and young Max Goldhirsch opened on October 24 and runs through November 17, Thursdays at 7:30, Saturdays at both 4 and 8, and Sundays at 2 at The Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre, inside the JCC, 2640 North Forest Road, Getzville (650-7626). www.jewishrepertorytheatre.com Runtime: 90 minutes; no intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Ella (Lisa Ludwig), the single mother of a 12-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, is a psychiatrist with a new patient (Todd Benzin) claiming to be God. He’s suffering and he wants one and only one session and only with her, a professed non-believer. At first, she wants nothing to do with him. At one point she thinks he suffers from “a god complex” and she wants to refer him to someone who specializes in those cases. At another she thinks he was sent from Mossad (the Israeli CIA) to spy on her for some reason. But once she is convinced that he really is God she doesn’t hold back. He’s got complaints? So does she. And, it turns out she’s a pretty effective therapist.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Lisa Ludwig is one of our busiest actors and has appeared in dozens of roles, but of all I’ve seen, this is her finest performance to date, bringing her considerable skills to what is essentially a two-person dialogue play. She displays a wide range of emotions without emoting; she gets angry naturally; she is vulnerable enough to bend like a reed that never breaks, and her diction is crystal clear. In the past, that clarity has sometimes fought against a realistic portrayal by being just a little too stage perfect. But not here. I’ve never seen her better.
She is assisted in her endeavors by a wig, glasses, and costume by designer Kari Drozd. There are several scenes early on with her son, Lior (played by seventh grader Max Goldhirsch) and the costume allows her to go easily between both worlds – family and professional.
Her equal on stage is another Artie-award winning local favorite who also has perfect diction, Todd Benzin. Having suffered through a number of performances on other stages with other actors who cannot project, it was pure joy to have these two veterans so evenly matched. So, given that his character is the Alpha and the Omega, what does God wear? It turns out to be black tie – tuxedo without cummerbund – elegant but chosen at the last minute for a humorous reason which the play reveals.
OH MY GOD leans more toward dinner theater and whatever biblical knowledge you may need is spoon fed from the stage in a very easy manner.
Biblical quotes fly back and forth mixed in with very contemporary language (even the F-word at one point) in a pitch-perfect translation by the successful team of Anthony Berris and Margalit Rodgers. As entertaining as it is, there are several resemblances to another recent play, The Shawfest’s production of G.B. Shaw’s DON JUAN IN HELL. Like that play, OH MY GOD at the JRT is also dialog heavy, it is static (the Shaw Festival tried to get around that by having actors climb up and down ladders) and it too takes on a variety of unanswerable theological issues. But, rest assured, OH MY GOD leans more toward dinner theater and whatever biblical knowledge you may need is spoon fed from the stage in a very easy manner. Did I mention that it’s funny? Because it has some good moments. No spoilers here, though.
Music (Tom Makar, sound designer) is effectively used to separate scenes as well as to heighten emotions. Much of it is music by Bach, the composer who is quoted as saying: “The aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God and refreshing the soul.” Who better? And who better to present this play than the Jewish Repertory Theater directed by Saul Elkin.
UP NEXT: WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW billed as a “heartfelt journey through a high-risk pregnancy and the American healthcare system” directed by Saul Elkin and starring Jose DiVincenzo. It will run at JRT February 6 through March 1, 2020.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!