Lawrence Toppman

God: The ultimate stand-up comedian – or is he?

God (Kristian Wedolowski, center) and two angels (Steven Martin, left, and Christopher Jones) explain the universe to you in “An Act of God.”
God (Kristian Wedolowski, center) and two angels (Steven Martin, left, and Christopher Jones) explain the universe to you in “An Act of God.” George Hendricks

The Lord has had a contentious relationship with Charlotte theater in recent decades, if you listen to people ordained to interpret his words. Protestors objected to “Steambath” (where he’s a Puerto Rican bathhouse attendant), “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” (where a bipolar nun lays down moral laws), “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” (which reinterprets the creation story with a gay twist) and “Angels in America,” which drew national attention when conservatives used it to suppress arts funding.

So it’s nice to see the Big Guy in a jovial mood in “An Act of God,” smiling rather than smiting – at least at first. He speaks to us through a human (Kristian Wedolowski) who has no idea how he’s being used. (Wedolowski, giving a performance that’s close to a monologue, does the best work I have seen from him.)

The Lord has come to explain why most of the commandments he gave to Moses have become outmoded and need to be replaced. He compares himself to Don McLean, who’s sick of singing “American Pie,” and promises this will be “the day the Mosaic died.” (The show is full of puns that will either seem wry or make you writhe.)

With a little help from Angel Gabriel (Christopher Jones) and tough questions from Angel Michael (Steven Martin), Yahweh deals with everything from the creation story to global warming: “I used to do the flooding: Now you do it on your own!”

David Javerbaum, a “Daily Show” writer and producer, milked this idea thrice: as a co-writer (with God) on the 2011 book “The Last Testament: A Memoir By God,” through the Deity’s Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod, then as a Broadway show in 2015. (God closed that account last year, forsaking 2.27 million followers. At the time, He was following one person: Justin Bieber.)

Director Glenn T. Griffin, who did the naughtier “Fabulous Story” with Queen City Theatre Company five years ago, sets the tone for Javerbaum’s 90-minute one-act by reproducing some of those tweets on a screen at the start: “I support the separation of church and hate” or “The Christian right hates Halloween not because it’s pagan, but because it involves handing out free food.”

Yet the show acquires serious overtones: Javerbaum tells the story of Jesus Christ reverently, explaining its value for man and God, and the Book of Job becomes a terrible existential joke in the manner of Samuel Beckett. God admits he can be jealous and vengeful – this show leans more heavily on the Old Testament than the New – possibly capricious and surely non-interventionist.

Javerbaum preaches self-reliance: God doesn’t help sports teams win, take away cancers, reward good behavior or punish bad. Whether or not He’s a fable, the stories we tell ourselves about Him often are. If Charlotte still had theatrical protestors, such ideas might enflame them. Blessedly, they seem to be a thing of the past.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘An Act of God’

When: Through Feb. 4 at 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Duke Energy Theatre, Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.

Tickets: $23-$25.

Running time: 90 minutes without intermission.

Details: 704-372-1000 or blumenthalarts.org.

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