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Amateurish Production of “Man of God” on Stage at the Geffen Playhouse

Once in a while, you see a play that is so bad you ask yourself if you should even review it. I decided “yes” as my readers need to be encouraged to spend their theatre dollars on another play.

What’s wrong this production, you might ask? How about everything, beginning with Anna Ouyang Moench’s poorly written, sophomoric script and unimaginative, infantile direction by Maggie Burrows, who by the way, did a great job in “TRAYF” also recently presented at Geffen Playhouse’s intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis stage. Her list of impressive credits were not reflected in this production. As a director, her job is to help the actors create a fully actualized, believable performance, which she failed to do. Most of the cast, with the exception of Erin Rae Li, (Mimi) who does have theatre credits, the rest of the ensemble are primarily cinematic actors who seriously overacted in this production. Not every actor can make the leap from film to stage and Burrows’ direction shaped performances that bordered on high school or middle school level with lots of yelling with some of the actors not getting past line readings at times. As for subtext, well, just forget about that.

L-R: Albert Park as the Pastor and Shirley Chen as Samantha, as one of the girls participating in the Christian mission to Thailand.

So, what’s the story? Four young girls who are members of a Korean Christian Girls’ Youth Group are on a religious mission in Bangkok organized by their Pastor, played by Albert Park, who definitely deserves better. Mimi, discovers a hidden camera in their bathroom and realizing that it is the property of their church, concludes that the Pastor must be the one who planted it for his viewing pleasure. Angry and disappointed over this betrayal of their trust, the girls begin to devise a plan to punish him. They fantasize several different ways of killing him, one of which is a sword fight between Samantha (Shirley Chen) and the Pastor, nicely choregraphed by Fight Director Thomas Isao Morinaka and enhanced by Lap Chi Chu candy-colored lighting design. Original music and sound design by Jonathan Snipes nicely augments the action taking place on Se Oh’s simple set design reflecting a pretty cheap hotel room, with the girls dressed in Denitsa Bliznakova’s colorful, age-appropriate teenage costumes. Another fantasy scene takes place in a bar with the pastor and Mimi (Erin Rae Li) seated at a table. As she leaves, she turns around and shoots him in the back of his head. The time has come for the Pastor, who we assume is naked in the tub, to get his punishment. The girls, including Jen (Emma Galbraith) and Samantha (Kyung-Hwa) are dressed in medical uniforms, and we are to assume they have performed a radical circumcision, more than a little off the top, and have removed one kidney and are about to remove the second one.

Billed as a funny feminist play, let me assure you there is nothing funny about these proceedings nor feminist, unless you think frequently dropping the “F-Bomb” from these supposed nice Christian girls, some of whom would fit into a gang, is feminism. The only thing that is laughable is the woefully poor direction by Burrows, whose staging frequently has the girls jumping from bed to bed, sometimes shouting or alternatively swallowing their lines. Getting back to the script, I’m reminded of that old show biz axiom: “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.” This production reflects that trope, but on steroids.

L-R: Mimi (Erin Rae Li,) Pastor (Albert Park) and Jen (Emma Galbraith) in Man of God at Geffen Playhouse.

Make no mistake. Sexual predators are a real and present danger to women of all ages and deserves to be treated seriously. That said, taking a serious subject and exploring it in a comedic manner is a familiar, interesting theatrical approach but it must begin with an excellent script and a director who can guide the production and elicit the best possible performances from his or her cast. In the case of MAN OF GOD, the attempts at comedy fell like lead balloons with only occasional snickering from the audience.

I should point out that MAN OF GOD had its World Premiere in 2019 at East West Players, the nation’s first professional Asian-American theater. In 2020, the production moved to the Geffen Playhouse but due to COVID, closed after only nine performances. In this case, Artistic Director Matt Shakman should have let sleeping dogs lie, which is derived from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “It is nought good a slepying hound to wake.”

“Man of God”
Audrey Skirball Kennis Theater
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Run:
Tuesday – Friday: 8:00pm
Saturday: 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday: 2:00 & 7:00 p.m.
Closing: Sunday, June 19, 2022
Running Time: 90 minutes – no intermission
Tickets: $30 – $129
310.208.2028 or
www.geffenplayhouse.org

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