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God’s Favorite, which is currently being presented by Westfield’s Main Street Productions, is perhaps Neil Simon’s most unusual play. It is a retelling of the story of the biblical Job, dealing with the traumatic episode in that character’s life where all his health, family, and his many riches are taken away as a test of his love for God. Considered by some to be possibly Simon’s most imaginative play, it is also seen as one of his least successful writings. With it’s combination of deep and depressing angst, alongside a sometimes zany style of humor (not to mention a set that must destruct between acts), it is a difficult, unbalanced piece to produce and stage. It may be interesting to note that in an interview from 1977 Simon himself says this: “Sad to say, God’s Favorite was not a good play…..because it was simply not done skillfully enough.”

In my opinion, director Danny Russel’s effort at the task have rendered a mixed bag of results. Attempting this demanding a play at the community theatre level is just one of the challenging factors here. The complexity of the two major roles, Joe Benjamin (the Job role), taken on by Tom Doman, and Sidney Lipton (a messenger of God) as provided by Steven Marsh, requires – I think – a pair of well-trained actors to handle the many inclines and plateaus Mr. Simon has laid out here. Dorman, whom I thought showed much promise in his role in Russel’s production of The Diviners at CCP, is steadfast in his approach to the much put-upon Joe. But I believe his is a role that requires a bit of stage experience to conquer and sustain. Marsh, in an even more demanding role, is a work in progress. He presently seems to have not found his way into all the nuances of Sidney’s jumpy, manic, sometimes frenzied mannerisms and pronouncements. This is a role originated by the likes of Charles Nelson Reilly, who had the perverse qualities necessary for this part. (In my reading of this script a few years ago, I envisioned a cross between Woody Allen and Arnold Stang!) Not that we are requiring that level of accomplishment, but in my opinion the work done here is in an incomplete stage, even given Mr. Marsh’s talents.

Simon’s failures with the script as a stage piece is the true culprit here. Even the person whom I would identify as the most accomplished actor in the group, Stephen E. Foxworthy – who plays the troubled Benjamin son David, struggles at times with the uneven script. His practiced range is enough to cover only a portion of his role’s demands. Other portrayals are managed by what would, in most other shows, be a strong cast. Joyce Pendleton, who takes the part of Joe’s wife – Rose, shows obvious talents in her turn which mixes schtick with sweetness with outrageous piteousness. The Benjamin’s twins, played by newcomer Ben Austin and burgeoning actress Addison D. Ahrendts, use high energy to fashion their mostly preposterous characters – and manage a level of success doing so. Scott Prill and Pam Young, who are onstage as servants Morris and Mady, use accented approaches to their somewhat narrow parts.

Indeed, I applaud the entire cast for their endeavors – I know how hard avocational actors work on their art in these productions. But given such a flawed script to work with, no manner of preparation could fully see them through.

A thorough congratulations goes to the technical side of this production. Danny Russel’s design for the large, two-story set (a first at MSP as I understand) works well and looks the part of a Long Island mansion. Master carpenter (and MSP president) John Sampson has constructed a set whose deconstruction (for Act 2) is well-accomplished. Lighting design and operation are also noteworthy, especially when the technicians take on the role of God’s fury. Not least, costume designs by Adrienne Conces and her assistant Janice Hannon are appropriate and good-looking.

God’s Favorite continues two more weekends at Main Street Production’s Westfield Playhouse, which is located at 1836 W. St. Rd. 32 in Eagletown. For information about show dates and times, log on to http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org or call the box office at 317-896-2707.

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