Saturday morning, I turned to page three to listen to the Torah being started over from the beginning. Saturday evening, I settled into my seat to watch a different telling of that oh so familiar story. The Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company opened its 25th season with O my God! by Anat Gov.
OMG tells the story of Ella, a psychologist who struggles to connect with her new patient, God. Rounding out the cast is Ella’s son, Lior, though the relationship built between Ella and God is the primary focus of the show. The two banter back and forth about faith, belief in oneself, and the reality of a higher authority.
The concept of the show is fascinating and had many pockets of lively moments, but the pacing at the beginning was too slow for my taste. The set up created a number of questions and overall, I felt like the script took too long to get to the answers. I’m not sure if it was the translation of the script or opening-night jitters. I’ve certainly done plenty of shows that needed that first real audience to push the energy to its full potential. The best thing about live theatre is you never have the exact same performance twice. Laura Sterns, as Ella, dominated the stage with an awesome physicality. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her on the MJTC stage in The Last Schwartz and My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. Her character ranged from confident to terrified; haughty to humbled; in contrast to James A. Williams, as God, who moved at a significantly slower pace. That evening, it came across as lack of confidence in his lines and blocking; however, on thinking about it I wonder if it’s actually a specific choice of the director to show the contrast in characters. Sean Carroll, as Lior, was simply underutilized. I kept waiting for more connections between his character and the main conversation taking place between Ella and God; by the time we got there, it fell a little flat for me.
One of the highlights for me was the costume design, which can be a challenge in a show set in the present time. Lior’s costume was my favorite. The character’s personality was clearly put into play when selecting the small touches from his shirt to his socks. God’s costume was equally delightful, a playful take on a difficult and over-done concept. The sound and lighting were well designed and delivered. Lior’s cello almost became another character. It was never jarring; highlighting the more serious moments of the show. The set was the only area of confusion for me in an otherwise strong design team. The program told me we were outside in an Israeli suburb, but I don’t know that I would have understood that without having read the description. I found myself then distracted trying to figure out what various pieces of the set represented.
While not my favorite MJTC show of recent memory, I have never seen a bad show at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre in the 20 years I’ve been an audience member. The rest of the audience felt engaged and jumped to their feet during the curtain call. I’m looking forward to hearing how others enjoy the show.
O my God! runs through November 17 at Hillcrest Community Center in Highland Park St. Paul.