Playing God is not a role to be taken lightly. Anthropomorphic though our contemporary perspective may be (and perhaps must be) in a work of comedy, for the character of God to be credible, there are certain expectations that must be met. One must convey the appropriate gravitas as a counterpoint for the sparks of humor, for laughter finds its origin in vulnerability. It is an exceedingly difficult balancing act, and Arie Tcherner, in the Khan Theatre production of Oh God by Anat Gov, directed by Erez Shafrir, accomplishes it with an impressive, quiet dignity, emotional depth, and an awe-inspiring ability to embrace and convey internal contradictions.
The play hinges on an imaginative effort to view human history from the perspective of the other guy – God, as in the God of the Old Testament, the one who created the earth, the one who brought about the flood. In this two-hander, Ella (Odelya More-Matalon) is a therapist, a profession one might view as the modern counterpart to the function of religion, with some significant differences. The therapist is not supposed to judge, but to listen, hopefully, with compassion. Likewise, the therapist cannot grant absolution, but offers, perhaps something just as valuable, the possibility of closure and healing. As the ultimate higher power, if God is feeling low, therapy seems like a good option, and in the context of the play, the therapeutic setting provides an excellent opportunity to raise burning questions about God’s relationship to the world, the state of humanity, and the planet.
The big questions are tackled with a light and deft touch, a witty and fast-paced text, excellent performances and an overall sensibility that successfully maintains the distinction between the sincere and the sentimental. In a dramatic situation that is by definition extreme, director Erez Shafrir has made the wise choice to exercise restraint, and the result is a very grounded play with an authentic, natural feel, that engages even the most cynical viewer, inviting a willing suspension of disbelief. Inevitably, there is a smidgen of sentimentality (or is it wonder?) in the text, yet for this cynical viewer, any excessive sweetness is tempered by the play’s strengths.
More-Matalon’s Ella (the name can also mean “goddess” in Hebrew) is capable and comforting, with a calm, matter-of-fact approach to life. A single mother raising her autistic son, Lior (Shachar Netz), her demeanor reflects reserves of strength and compassion. Even God couldn’t ask for a better therapist. Shachar Netz brings an endearing vivacity to a small, yet significant role, expressing both the impulsive, overwhelming, emotions of the character and through his gaze, giving a sense of the spirit within. Yet it is Arie Tcherner as a troubled God who gives the play its heart and soul. He exudes a majestic, slightly ominous presence, yet his rugged features convey the most delicate nuance of feeling.
Svetlana Berger has once more created a set design that enhances and develops the play’s themes. Ella’s home, where the session takes place, is warm and lively, reflecting her personality. But the best aspect of the set is the lush, bountiful garden set behind glass doors, a colorful paradise always in view, yet just beyond.
Oh God by Anat Gov
Directed by Erez Shafrir; Set Design: Svetlana Berger; Costume Design: Veronica Schor; Lighting Design: Roni Cohen; Music: Yotam Gov; Cast: Arie Tcherner, Odelya More-Matalon, Shachar Netz