Keith Dougherty’s Review of God’s Favorite

November 3, 2019

Creative Theatre

Muddy Water Players

The Playhouse at Museum Village

     For those of you familiar with the Biblical Book of Job, Neil Simon has taken its premise and turned it into a 70’s family comedy, complete with cursing, drinking, sexual suggestions, and references to Robert Redford and The Exorcist. Sound like a full enough evening? It was.

Produced on Broadway in 1974 at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, God’s Favorite is not what you would typically expect from Neil Simon, but director Al Snider has assembled a talented cast that delivers the goods. Snider’s attention to detail is obvious and carried over to the beautiful set he co-designed with Bob Curtis. We are treated to the well-crafted living room as soon as we walk into the theatre and it is warm, rich and inviting without a hint of the oncoming peril.

Joe Benjamin, a devout follower of God, is a wealthy owner of a cardboard box manufacturing company, husband to Rose, and father of twins, Sarah and Ben, and another son, David. The play begins at the stroke of midnight when a peculiar stranger arrives at the Benjamin home and reveals that Joe is indeed God’s Favorite. The stranger, who after much song and dance, introduces himself as Sidney Lipton, a messenger of God. He soon also discloses that Joe’s faith in the lord will be tested unless he renounces Him.

This is not the conventional story of Job, but does hit all of the main points, with a healthy dose of comedy. With his family, and staff, by his side, for the most part, we watch the tragic, often painful, trials and losses Joe endures, while refusing to renounce his devotion to God. As Joe Benjamin, David Topps gives a solid, thought-provoking performance. His poignant, believable portrayal has you rooting for him throughout the entire play.

Lori Crescenzo is appropriately and adeptly kooky as Joe’s supportive wife, Rose. She has great chemistry with Topps as she reaches her breaking point in the second act. As the twins, Sarah (Devin Cassidy) and Ben (Peter Serritello), are like amusing bookends, bringing just the right amount of comic flair to their roles. Kudos to Cassidy for her very funny delivery of what she imagines an intruder’s intentions are. Obviously wishful thinking trumps fear and Cassidy handles it perfectly. As the third child, David, Peter Tomczak has some touching moments with his dad, who obviously wants the best for him.

As the Benjamin’s devoted staff, Mady and Morris, Susan Mormile and Jon Huberth give us a sound comic duo. Huberth has a distinct presence on stage and is obviously a well-trained and seasoned actor.

There is much to be said about Joseph Jervais as Sidney Lipton, but first and foremost, bravo. This role can all too easily be played as a stereotypical clown but Jervais didn’t let that happen. Were there clownish aspects to his performance? Yes, but you believed they were part of Sidney’s personality. You believed he had a wife, you believed he had health problems and you totally bought in to the fact that his persona was as big as the “G” on his sweatshirt. Jervais skillfully made use of the entire stage and his natural comic ability, coupled with Snider’s keen direction, brought the show to life.

With wonderful costumes by Cindy Topps, lighting design by Bruce Roman, and again, a terrific set by Bob Curtis and Al Snider, God’s Favorite, is a fun topper to a great 2019 season for Creative Theatre – Muddy Waters Players. Even the crew got involved, as the devil’s minions in a very clever set change bit.

Creative Theatre – Muddy Water Players production of God’s Favorite will continue its run through Sunday, November 10. Tickets are available at the box office (845) 294-9465 or go to AtThePlayhouse.org

 

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