By Brian Scott Lipton . . . 

Faith and hope can often be in short supply these days, whether in Twin Falls, Idaho, the setting of Samuel D. Hunter’s delicate, beautifully acted two-hander, A Case for the Existence of God, or in the audience of the Signature Theatre where many viewers may spend most of their time wondering if Hunter’s title is some sort of cruel joke. 

From the get-go, things seem a little bleak for Ryan (Will Brill), an about-to-be-divorced factory worker desperate to get a $100,000-plus loan to buy 12 acres of property that used to belong to his great-grandparents to eventually build a home for himself and his 15-month-old daughter. We almost immediately sense he’s holding onto an O’Neill-like “pipe dream,” but fellow day-care parent and mortgage broker Keith (Kyle Beltran) gives Ryan constant assurances that any difficulties can be overcome. Whether that turns out to be the case provides the crux of the 90-minute plot, but not the heart of the play.

Will Brill and Kyle Beltran

Indeed, what Hunter slowly yet assuredly reveals over the course of many months is that despite their obvious differences—Keith is black, gay and well-educated while Ryan is white, straight and not-too-bright—both men are indeed bonded to each other in ways they might never have imagined. 

Partially, they are haunted and shaped by their pasts, individually and jointly (among other things, they went to high school together—a fact that Ryan doesn’t remember, which Keith bitterly resents). Furthermore, their shared experience of not having a partner and raising a child (one that, it turns out, Keith may not be able to keep) brings them to spend many a lonely night together (and, wisely, not in the so-called Biblical sense) watching TV and downing whiskey.

Above all, though, it’s what Ryan calls “their shared sense of sadness” that creates a connection, as Ryan and Keith are unhappy, lost souls who make consistently bad choices that only exacerbate their already complicated circumstances. Yet, as he has done in previous works such as “The Whale,” Hunter never asks us to judge or pity these men; our feeling is much more along the lines of “there but for the Grace of God, go I.”

Will Brill and Kyle Beltran

Luckily, Hunter has found an ideal collaborator in the brilliant director David Cromer, whose simple staging encourages us to focus on both Hunter’s words and Brill and Beltran’s finely calibrated performances. Indeed, his work here is reminiscent of his direction of The Sound Inside, including the fact that all the “action” takes place in a small office (smartly designed by Arnulfo Maldonado)—meant to substitute as various settings—that only occupies a small fraction of the vast stage.

As for the title, I will only say that a rather daring and unexpected ending may provide some with an adequate explanation  . . . or perhaps it’s just the reality that even in the depths of disappointment and uncertainty, Hunter assures us, that real human connection is still possible.

A Case for the Existence of God. Through June 5 at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre Center (480 West 42nd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). 

Photos: Emilio Madrid