An Act of God

Lynne Lancaster

A hilarious reworking of the Ten Commandments that really makes you think.
An Act of God
 Image: An Act of God photo by Phil Erbacher.

This was a dazzling performance of An Act of God as part of the Mardi Gras Festival. Performed in the right place (the aptly named Eternity Playhouse which used to be a church) and at the right time (now).

The Christian God, who works in mysterious ways, has decided to take the human form of Mitchell Butel, who has arrived to deliver a new set of the Ten Commandments. In Javerbaum’s play God admits to being imperfect. While God remains omnipotent, he confesses he has made some extremely bad mistakes and considers it’s time to clarify over two millennia of inaccurate beliefs.

The show examines the impact of religion on all of us, regardless of what we do or don’t believe.

With the help of a couple of Archangels (Gabriel and Michael ) God is mostly sort of like a genial, bubbly late-night talk show host, and he’s here to set the record straight in the only way the big man above can.

Butel wears a gold bordered toga and underneath that a shirt, jeans and sneakers. At times he bounces around snacking on grapes and drinking from a golden chalice. But he can also have sudden mood shifts revealing hidden power and can be somewhat terrifying. Butel is dazzling in this continual almost monologue, full of energy and brilliant comic timing. As Archangel Gabriel Laura Murphy is a beautiful, luscious presence, while Archangel Michael as portrayed by Alan Flower is rather more down to earth and asks difficult questions.

The clean white set designed by Charles Davis perhaps suggests a celestial talk show with a sweeping white couch for God to loll on, or hide behind the cloud pillows.

The play is a biting, witty, sarcastic analysis of our modern society – the audience is in fits of laughter at times – and also asks major questions such as why bad things happen to good people, why all the suffering throughout the millennia and does God actually listen to and answer prayers?

The controversy around evolution and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is broken down – God says he organised it all. There are snide attacks on politicians (including Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott) and footy teams, plus lots of Sydney in-jokes. The transposing of the script from its American base to an Australian one works marvelously well. Some of it skirts on dangerous ground and could be regarded as offensive by some, but mostly the audience was enthralled and enjoying the sermon, so to speak, immensely.

In this version God is weary of the Ten Commandments in exactly the same way that Don McLean has grown weary of ‘American Pie’. God has decided to rewrite the list and make it far more ‘gay–friendly’. There is audience participation and a hilarious reworking of the Garden of Eden for example with Adam and Steve. There is also a lively retelling of the birth of Jesus and lots of comments about God’s relationship with Jesus (family issues!).

However, there is also a dark side – God summarises his infinite life so far, and he has begun to question not just his actions (destroying most of mankind with the great flood and all the wars; the “almost forcing” Abraham to kill Isaac, and look at Job). God also looks at his own nature ‘wrath-management issues’ are just part of it. God is, he tells us, our worst mistake, just as we are his. God describes himself as ‘a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist.’

The last commandment given is Have Faith in Yourself. 

An Act of God declares that humans need to take charge no matter what we believe about prayer. Religious and secular ideas are somewhat clarified and untangled. The play provides much food for thought as well as an inspirational ending.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Mitchell Butel 
Alan Flower
Laura Murphy
Director: Richard Carroll & Mitchell Butel
Production Designer: Charles Davis
Lighting Designer: Katie Sfetkidis
Sound Designer: Andrew Worboys
Stage Manager: Gayda de Mesa
Choreographer: Amy Campbell
Produced by Darlinghurst Theatre Company

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.