Is it odd to report that someone has “matured into a role,” if the role we’re talking about is the big kahuna, our lord almighty, author of The Ten Commandments, generally omnipresent being, and so forth?
I had that sense as I laughed, robustly and often, through Sean Hayes’, er, headlining turn in “An Act of God,” the 90-minute comedy back for a second New York stint, after a run last summer with Jim Parsons in the white robe and sensible athletic shoes.
Hayes, who kept us in stitches as flighty pal Jack McFarland on NBC’s “Will & Grace,” may not be “infinity” years old, as the script -- based on a Twitter feed by former “Daily Show” honcho David Javerbaum -- allows. But he isn’t the young kid we remember from a TV sitcom, either.
A touch of gray has crept into Hayes’ hair. Forehead lines are visible when he furrows his brow. I’d normally stay clear of comment on a performer’s physical traits, but there’s a gravitas evident that’s a help, here. Y’know. If you’re gonna play God and all. (Hayes previously earned hallelujahs on Broadway for “Promises, Promises,” in 2010.)
The set-up of Javerbaum’s effective satire, directed by Joe Mantello, has the creator of the universe taking us through an all new edgy and transgressive set of commandments, in “Family Feud” style: “Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate” is one.
“God” explains that he’s commandeered Hayes’ body, and Hayes doesn’t know he’s here (“So why Sean Hayes?” asks this God. “I’ve been a fan of his since ‘Will and Grace.’ That Cher episode?”). We rapidly ascertain that God’s views on morality are aligned with those of the left-leaning urbanites most likely to have shelled out for a ticket.
Archangels Michael (David Josefsberg) and Gabriel (James Gleason, reading key passages from the Bible for God to clarify) are on hand as second bananas. The set is centered around a white staircase ascending through concentric circles of white laminate to a video screen, all occasionally bathed in colored light.
There is some staginess in the script that remains a touch forced. A bit about a ringing cellphone in the audience is overkill (“You’re lucky I’m God, and not Patti LuPone”), and you wish Michael would at least try and pretend his “questions from the audience” are genuinely from the audience.
But more apparent are fresh and wicked updates, such as a discussion of the Garden of Eden, in which God explains how he created a companion for Adam: “Fulsomely did I Cosby his nectar …” When Michael, pretending to lob an audience query at his boss, asks “Why are we here?” God quips: “Because you couldn’t get ‘Hamilton’ tickets.”
The best joke of the night is still about (cringe) the Holocaust.
There are, surely, plenty of sharp one-liners crammed into the evening, but one has particular resonance. God, world weary as he is, begins to kvetch about feeling abandoned when the people of earth recite the “Hail Mary”: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”
“I’m like the sidekick,” Hayes, as God, gripes. It’s funny, particularly because this time, the charming personality is anything but.
“An Act of God,” through Sept. 4 at the Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St. Tickets: $42-$149. Call 212-239-6200.
Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn