By Neil Simon
Richardson Theatre Centre
Stage Manager?Elizabeth Saxe
Set Designer?Charlie Alexander, Rachael Lindley
Lighting Designer?Charlie Alexander
Costume Designer?Rachael Lindley
Prop Designer?Rachael Lindley
Sidney Lipton-Sara Ragsdale
Reviewed Performance 4/14/2011
Reviewed by Kristopher A. Harrison, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
God's Favorite is a modern day retelling of the Biblical story of Job, in classic Neil Simon style. The jokes piled up one on top of the other as Joe Benjamin, a wealthy Long Island businessman, had his faith tested by God. He is forced to put up with his obnoxious, jewelry-obsessed wife, his drunken son David, his annoying twins, and worst of all, Sidney Lipton. Sidney broke into the house claiming to be a messenger from God, announcing that Joe is God's favorite person, and that God and Satan made a bet that Satan could make Joe's life so miserable that he would renounce God. Joe claimed he would never renounce God, and so began the test. Joe was smitten with poverty, a skin rash, a house fire, and other calamities. All the while, Sidney kept coming back to see if Joe was ready to renounce God.
Although the subject matter sounds quite grim, the play was written by Neil Simon, who managed to squeeze every possible joke out of the situation. At times it felt more like a vaudeville performance than a play, as the characters went from one one-liner to the next, pulling the appreciative audience along with them. And yet the challenge, as with all Neil Simon plays, lies in peeling back such jokes to get to the heart of the story. That was something that this company never quite managed to do.
The theatre itself was nestled in a quaint row of Tudor-style shops, and had a wonderful, inviting atmosphere. The play started off with a bang, as Joe's burglar alarm went off in the middle of the night, causing panic and a lot of jokes.
Ben Westfried as Joe Benjamin quickly identified himself as the strength of the production. His facial expressions and his eyes practically became another character, since he utilized them so well throughout the show. He alone was able to reach behind the jokes to get to the heart of a character whose love for God extends beyond "what have you done for me lately?" His monologue in the first scene was a tender, touching moment in the play, and I thought he would be able to put the rest of the actors on his back and carry them for the remainder of the show. In the end, though, it proved to be too much, and the performance, while funny, was lacking.
The rest of the company was well cast, and worked well together. They all demonstrated a lot of potential, and based on the bios in the program, it seemed some of them were just getting started in their acting careers. It would be interesting to revisit some of their work after a few more productions. That is especially true of Micah Taylor and Linda Bi, who had the makings of accomplished actors, once they get a bit more work under their belt. I enjoyed watching Andrew Bryan and Jenny King as the twins Ben and Sara, but at times they seemed more engaged in their own ad-libbed business than in staying in the moment.
Lise Alexander had some great, funny vocal work, yet lacked a solid character arc such that her moments towards the end of the play fell flat. Roger Schwermer as David, the oldest, "prodigal" son, showed moments of real greatness. He had a good, innate sense of timing, and many of his jokes hit. But he seemed unable to string together enough great moments to turn in a great performance. The result was a good performance, though a frustrating one.
Sara Ragsdale as Sidney Lipton created a consistent character, and played well off of Ben Westfried. Anytime an actor creates a character that is over the top, the challenge is to also make that character human, and Ragsdale accomplished that balance well.
In terms of the design, this theater company could really benefit from a good design team. (If you are a costume or set designer who is looking to build up your portfolio, give them a call. I'm guessing they won't turn you away.) They did a sufficient job given some obvious budget restrictions, but the set and costumes came across as amateurish, which ultimately hurt the production.
In the final analysis, this was a theatre company that was to be commended for giving some young actors a good experience working with some seasoned veterans, and that is worth celebrating. They did an admirable job of mounting a funny, classic play, and the audience enjoyed a good laugh. There was room for growth here, but a promising future loomed ahead.
Richardson Theatre Centre, 2701 Custer Pkwy, Ste 911
Richardson, TX 75080
April 8-May 1
Run time around 2 hours, 5 minutes.
Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2pm
Thursdays Dinner/Show $30/$40, Fridays and Saturdays $22,
For tickets and information, go to:
www.richardsontheatrecentre.net or call (972) 669-1130