Some of the best moments in "Oh My God!" occur early in the Anat Gov's comic one-act play, when Ella, a psychologist, is trying to figure out who her mysterious new client is. The guy kind of appears out of nowhere in her office (the well-appointed stage of Jewish Repertory Theatre) and won't say his real name. When asked, he gives a little smile and tells her, "I am who I am."
They have never met, yet he seems to know everything about Ella — about her divorce, her autistic son, everything. Wondering if she is being investigated, Ella tentatively asks her guest if he is from security. Mossad? The Air Force?
The elegant man finally concedes,"You're getting warmer."
He's making a little joke, of course. This is God, and he isn't really playing games. He has come to Ella's comfortable in-home counseling office for one therapy session to see if she can help with a dilemma he's facing.
You see, his earthly creation has become so totally messed up, God is considering destroying it. But there's something about Ella — a private, painful secret — that makes him think that she could change his mind.
Todd Benzin fits the role of supreme being as neatly as his tailored tuxedo fits him. (When Ella asks about his formal dress, God explains that he — and costume designer Kari Drozd — used Ella's poster of Brando in "The Godfather" as a template for his appearance.)
Lisa Ludwig presents a worthy counterpoint, playing Ella as a woman accustomed to handling the unpredictable with strength and humor. When necessary, she can set aside her inherent sensitivity for a no-nonsense reality check. This man insists that he's God? Well, she tells him, "You're NOT God. There's no such thing as God." She is so secular, she says, "I eat shrimp with cheese topping."
While we are trying to decide if that line is funny, gross or both, God hits back as only he can, with both truth and cruelty, and the session gets underway.
While Ella's son Lior (Max Goldhirsch) appears briefly, this is essentially a two-person play. Gov wrote the dialogue with clarity and purpose, keeping the therapy premise together while exploring deep into the corners of both characters' dreams and disappointments. We discover God's disappointments go way, WAY back, to a fellow named Adam, who let him down in a big way. A host of other biblical references shows that God has not rushed to his current judgment.
Ella, meanwhile, tries to keep up her professional front, but she can't help herself — God is bringing out emotions she had long though she buried. Tired of all the broken promises in her own life, she goes after God for his. What about his promise to Noah? Why doesn't he do more to help people? What is all this power for, and where's the justice in all the suffering?
Director Saul Elkin does a smooth job keeping the actors moving in what is, by definition, a usually static activity. Even so, at times the play feels talky, and we wish for a few more bits like the one where even God has trouble hooking up Lior's movie player. Little things like that give out brains a break, because the big questions here don't have easy answers, and Gov has not pretended to provide them.
What she does do in "Oh My God!," as beautifully interpreted at JRT, is let us know that we shouldn't be afraid to ask those questions and to try to understand one another.
"Oh My God!"
3 stars (out of four)
Presented by Jewish Repertory Theatre through Nov. 17 in the Maxine & Robert Seller Theatre in the JCC, 2640 North Forest Road, Getzville. (Talk-backs with the cast are after every Thursday performance.) Tickets are $38; $36 for seniors, $10 for students, at jewishrepertorytheatre.com.