Just who exactly is the first character we meet in William Andrew Jones’ engaging, provocatively titled comedy Satan and God? The audience learns rather quickly that this expensively dressed man (played by Zach Wegner) is a head honcho in the movie business: specifically, “executive in charge of production”. His current production is a very big, very expensive ($200 million) movie named War III, based upon a video game and guaranteed to make a huge profit, complete with sequels and merchandise deals. This character is grandiose, excessively vain, and– to overly simplify things– is just not a very nice person. An example: He thinks nothing of firing people on the spot., even the most economically vulnerable ones. Although the word “Satan” is never used in the entire play, it becomes pretty obvious which of the two characters this L.A. hotshot is. Shortly afterward, we meet the play’s second character (played by Jonathan Wong Frye), a self-proclaimed environmentalist who is much more humbly dressed, with a contagiously calming and nonthreatening (Dare we say, “Godly”?) aura. He has been waiting three days to meet the shallowly charismatic executive, in hopes of talking him out of his diabolic plans to destroy 15 square miles of unblemished forest in Manitoba solely to use in a scene for his movie. At the center of this divine environmentalist’s plea is the fear of extinction of one endangered species of bird, the Great Crested Starling.
But wait… Couldn’t God simply create new starlings? Couldn’t He destroy the devil’s plan “With One Look” or a pointing of His finger? As explained in the Jones’ play, God has given up most of His supernatural powers in an effort to be more human. And while He does indeed unleash some of his plagues (water turning into blood, painful boils on Satan’s butt…) and even threaten some new ones, He prefers to convince Satan “do the right thing” first. What emerges is a showdown between the two, each explaining their agendas. The plagues may be from Biblical times, but apparently, both the devil and the Almighty face some very new challenges in the digital age. Satan finds modern people a little too willing to sell their souls, and God finds it harder and harder to have people do the right thing with “free will” running amok. Who exactly has more control? By the end of Act 1, the play’s titular pair actually discover, reluctantly, they have more in common than they realized, starting with mutual loneliness. Jones’ well-choreographed war dance between the two men turns into a dance of a very different kind, complete with… singing! If you can guess by now what happens in Act 2, more power to you: This reviewer for one was caught completely off guard. When Satan declares, “Oh, God!” in the comedic equivalent of a jump scare, he took the words right out of my mouth.
Thanks to William Andrew Jones’ script, Satan and God provokes many, many serious discussions about religion, exploring millennia-old theories through a 2022 lens. Satan tells God at one point: “My being evil is nothing more than an extension of you being so unrelentingly good!” There’s also more than just a perfunctory service given to the issue of conservation of endangered species. Heavy subject matter aside, Satan and God IS indeed a comedy, with much of the smart and occasionally campy humor coming from the script and the idiosyncratic dynamic between the two actors. Act 2 features even more of that humor, as well as a truly provocative new revelation: In the first Act, the audience was led to believe that toxic capitalism, or even the phenomenon of making artless movies for profit alone (Gasp!) may be the real evil in Satan’s big Hollywood adventure. In Act 2, Satan admits an even more subtle method to his madness running underneath. It’s an agenda that’s more complicated, more invasive, and ultimately more destructive for humanity in the present as well as the future… What will ultimately be the outcome of this meeting between Lucifer and the Lord?
The performances by the two actors are excellent. In the flashier role, Wegner as Satan gets most of the play’s funniest lines– and thoroughly enjoys delivering each and every one of them as he revels in his character’s unrepentant cruelty. As God, Frye epitomizes the kind of gentle soul who can diffuse even the tensest situations with his almost narcotic persona, yet who’s not afraid to flash his eyes and fight back when pushed to the limits. As a theatrical experience, Satan and God is both devilishly funny and divinely provocative.
The World Premiere of Satan and God, written and directed by William Andrew Jones, takes place at Theatre Row/Studio Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street (btw 9th & 10th Ave), NYC. Subways: A/C/E to 42nd Street through April 24. Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday’s at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets are $30 (+ $2.50 Restoration Fee) and may be purchased at www.theatrerow.org, or by calling 212 714-2442, or at the Theatre Row Box Office two hours before curtain. Running time: 90 minutes.
(Photos by Michael Cole.)