By John Staton
Copyright © 2012 StarNewsOnline.com
WANT TO GO:
“God’s Favorite,” by Neil Simon. Presented by Big Dawg Productions.
When: 8 p.m. April 19-21, 26-28 and 3 p.m. April 22, 29
Where: Cape Fear Playhouse, 613 Castle St., Wilmington
Tickets: $20, $18 for senior citizens, students and military. Thursday shows are $15.
Details: 910-367-5237 or http://www.BigDawgProductions.org
There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain, and what’s pleasurable for the audience about the play “God’s Favorite” by Neil Simon is inversely painful for the characters depicted in it.
Funny how that works.
Not that the audience is all that sadistic. Simon, in his 1975 play that’s at once a retelling and a send-up of the Book of Job, does a brilliant job of making ridiculous the suffering heaped on businessman Joe Benjamin (Bradley Coxe, a thoroughly likable Everyman) by a God who supposedly loves him. Under the taut, tonally astute direction of Tony Moore, Big Dawg Productions delivers one of the strongest local productions of the year so far.
The plot has Joe, a successful businessman with a high-maintenance wife (Elaine Nalee) and three kids, visited by a very strange fellow, Sidney Lipton, who claims to be a messenger from God. Winningly portrayed by Ron Hasson, who combines an impishness with flavors of the Cowardly Lion and Curly (“Soitenly!”) in a way I’ve never seen before, Sidney predicts the financial, physical and emotional calamities that are preparing to befall Joe if he doesn’t renounce God.
And why? Well, because God has a bet with the Devil, and He knows that His favorite human, Joe, would never renounce him, even when faced with all the torments of hell.
It’s a fairly hilarious concept, and Coxe does a yeoman’s job as Joe, who’s not the brightest bulb but is strong-minded and principled nonetheless.
It’s a well-cast show, from the not-always helpful help (Chase Harrison and Beth Raynor, both funny) to Joe’s clueless younger kids (Erika Hendrix and Jordan Stallings) to his drunken, resentful oldest son, David (Nate Kistler, balancing indifference and indignation).
“God’s Favorite” isn’t just about the comedy. Toward the end it makes an effective swerve into righteous anger that gives it some heft before ending on a lighter note.
John Staton: 910-343-2343
On Twitter: @Statonator