By Samuel L. Leiter
You know that feeling you have when you step into a theater elevator with a bunch of strangers after having just seen something you thought was really bad? That awkward silence as you wonder if someone will say something confirming your opinion? Last night after seeing the godawful God of Marz at the TBG Theatre, as the seven or eight of us descended, someone actually piped up, “I have to say it. Terrible!” A few seconds later, the door opened and a united group of New York theatergoers stepped out onto West 36th Street.
Things didn’t augur well from the beginning. Scheduled for the already unusual time of 8:30, we waited till 8:45 for the lights to go up. Programs weren’t ready so reviewers had to depend on a media press kit, which noted that two roles were played by different actors at different performances. Those involved when I went were Rachel Sheen as Kelly, Marquis Wood as Telly, Laura Leigh Carroll as God, Chandler Converse as Devil, and Adam Chisnall as Jesus Christ.
Rachel Sheen wrote the play under the name Rachel A. Shaw, Glenn Girón directed, and the original music was by Mark Lazeski. John Shaw designed the interesting set, a neutral, white space with curved walls and red highlights, including a red floor pattern reminiscent of one of those crop patterns some people think aliens created. Nick Chavin lit the show effectively, and is, I imagine, responsible for the video sequences. No one is credited for the costumes, which include space outfits.
I wish I could stop right here. Duty, however, compels me to reveal that, as my plus-one and I immediately concurred, God of Marz is a throwback to the wacky, farcical satires familiar to fans of the long- gone Theatre of the Ridiculous, albeit without a whiff of its wit or comically gifted clowns. Charles Ludlam, where are you when we need you?
Instead, we get Rachel Sheen/Shaw, an attractive young woman whose ambition outstrips both her acting and writing talent. Not to worry, though, since, for no reason whatsoever (other than to demonstrate her aerialist abilities), she does a polished acrobatic routine toward the end, masked like a Mexican wrestler. This requires her to twist around precariously (well, it would be more so if she were higher than two feet from the ground), on a large, suspended hoop. One assumes that, if her legitimate theatre career goes nowhere, she can always try out for Cirque du Soleil.
The play, a farrago of far too many farcical misfires, concerns a space flight by astronauts Kelly and Telly to Mars. Before their rocket ship crashes, they argue over which of them will be the first human to set foot on the red planet, even though Kelly’s contract says it should be her. Telly, a former Navy SEAL who fought in Iraq, wants to have sex with Kelly; Kelly, a writer of books about racial and gender politics, aspires to the American presidency.
While searching for sustenance, they wander into the home of God, a brassy, flirtatious, vape-smoking, booze-drinking, Renée Taylor-like floozy, who claims to be half-Canadian, half-American. God, who is Jewish (there’s a small, lit-up menorah in her home), lives with her son, Jesus, outrageously swishy in a beard and woman’s blonde wig, much in the Ludlam manner.
The playwright throws multiple thematic butter pats against the wall; they represent topics like Donald Trump (“Mexicans are rapists,” blah blah), misogyny, feminism, environmentalism, religion, God’s existence, and veganism but nothing sticks. What does stick, however, is when the buff physiques of Sheen and Woods meet for sex in God’s bed.
Jesus keeps reminding us in his trés gay way that “they nailed me to a cross,” while we learn such tidbits as that Moses was a pimp and Jesus’ mother (who was both Mary and Mary Magdalene) was a prostitute. Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner did it much more brilliantly in their 2,000-year-old man routine. After 75 minutes, the play succumbs to a merciful (if entirely innocuous) end when the Devil, a woman in skintight, red vinyl, with little black wings, flies the astronauts back to earth.
What’s odd is that at moments you can see how a clever director might have made some of this material work. Unfortunately, whatever subversive humor is trying to break out gets no help from Girón’s clumsy timing, uninspired staging, and insufficient imagination. God knows what Ludlam would have made of God of Marz.
God of Marz. Through June 15 at TBG Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). www.godofmarz.com
Photos: Steve Zak