This evening I attended the Western New York premiere of “Oh My God” by Anat Gov at the Jewish Repertory Theatre. Ms. Gov was one of Israel’s premiere dramatists with scores of plays and television programs to her credit. Like all Israeli students, Ms. Gov studied the Bible throughout her school years. As an adult, Gov founded a Bible study institute.
. . .a very careful and studied production of a philosophical play.
The play takes place in a therapist’s office in modern day Tel Aviv. God is feeling so depressed about His relationship with the people on Earth that He is considering suicide and needs psychological therapy. Ella, the loving Jewish lady who He has selected for His therapist, has just one hour to convince God not to destroy Himself and all of creation. The therapist is the single parent of a preteen who has autism, and so she has lots of challenges of her own. The heart of the play is the therapy session that takes place in Ella’s office.
There is very little action in “Oh My God.” It’s cerebral – more like theological dialogue than a true play. Perhaps the translation from Hebrew to English is partially to blame. Many of the lines seemed stilted and were delivered in a stagey fashion that seemed odd in such an intimate setting.
This is a confident and well oiled production of a wordy, difficult piece that has been mastered with aplomb by the cast, Todd Benzin and Lisa Ludwig, who obviously took this assignment very seriously and gave it 100%. For this, they are to be congratulated. Congratulations also to director Saul Elkin for this smooth and well paced production.
One challenge is in the casting. God is described in the play as being impressive and frightening with a deep voice. Mr. Benzin, although he gives this his best effort, just isn’t majestic or mature enough for the role. In fact, in this production, God comes across as younger and less powerful than Ella, the therapist. Ms. Ludwig plays Ella who the play describes as being warm and empathetic. Instead, in this production, Ella seems more enthusiastic about proving her points than she is about giving of herself to God and humanity.
There is a lot of yelling onstage – God is frequently exasperated and Ella is agitated. Potential moments of poignancy, amazement, connection, and humor were rushed through – perhaps in an effort to keep the pace brisk.
Max Goldhirsch does a lovely job as Ella’s son.
Production values are fine throughout. Perhaps if Ms. Ludwig has been costumed in slacks, instead of heels and a skirt, she could have been freer with stage movements. Ella’s office is part of her home, after all, so one wonders why she’s so dressed up. She looks more like Beaver Cleaver’s mom than like a modern day therapist.
And, it’s quite possible that this is indicated in the script – but there were inexplicable short sudden schmaltzy musical passages throughout the evening. They were more distracting than atmospheric.
This is a very careful and studied production of a philosophical play.
“Oh My God” is 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Oh My God” runs until November 17, 2019 and is presented at Jewish Repertory Theatre. For more information, click here.