Vertigo’s “God’s Favorite” Opens 2011 With a Chuckle

By Kathleen Kirby

With the Biblical story of Job as catalyst and inspiration, Neil Simon’s somewhat obscure God’s Favorite opened in Vertigo Theatrics’ dinner theatre venue Friday.  It was both a comical and heartwarming production.

Since most are familiar with the premise of the story, we knew that Joe Benjamin’s lifestyle was about to take a turn for the worse. In this version, Joe (Mark Bonto) and his family live on Long Island surrounded by comfort and the trappings of wealth. Still, Joe is an intrepid believer in the genuineness of God’s will.

When the Lord’s messenger, in the person of Sydney Lipton (Shane McNicol), sets off the burglar alarm, the plot takes off.  Sent to secure Joe’s renunciation of God, we are never clear just who this character is working for.  He describes a sort of gambling bet between Heavenly factions, all the while complaining about his job!  McNicol definitely does this character comic justice.

Upon Lipton’s arrival, we are introduced to the rest of Joe’s family.  First on the scene are the twins, Ben and Sara played with comical aplomb by Ben Segal and Danielle Curavo.  These two are so alike that they repeat each other’s comments and are never more than a couple feet apart.

Then Rose, Joe’s wife and the twins’ mom, staggers in to see what the fuss is about.  Jacque Valley is a hoot throughout this show. From her initial deafness (due to earplugs) to her protection of her jewelry and finally still wrapped in fur after everything is gone, her delivery is always straight-faced and comically confused.

Joe’s wayward son, David (M. Ryan Szukhent) arrives prodigally in the midst of everything and does manage to rile up the heavens along with the family. Given heavily to drink and afraid of sobriety (he calls it soberness), David’s purported intelligence has gone seriously astray.  Still, this character seems to set the scene for Joe to expose his own background in poverty while preaching to his son about loyalty and self governance.

Now this may all sound slightly churchy, but it is well ingrained in typical Simon humor and clever dialogue.  Having placed all of his faith in God, Joe seems confused when his business burns and his house is destroyed without benefit of insurance.  Bonto brings his usual intensity and amazing facial dexterity to this role and towers over the rest by virtue of more than mere stature.

Two faithful servants stick with the Benjamins even when there’s nothing for them to do.  Larry Stecco is the apparent butler, Morris, and is always accompanied by his daughter Mady (Jessica Eldredge). Indeed, some very clever lines and “bits” fall to these two loyal “outsiders”.

Director Marwan Prince’s cast can be commended for moving this show along for the most part at a merry clip.  His set made a valiant attempt to convey a bountiful lifestyle on the tiny stage.  Abundant paintings, plants and pillows fronted a carpeted stair to the double door entrance. The second act destruction, a definite challenge, made its point as well.

God’s Favorite is a thoroughly entertaining event. Dinner theatre makes it even better.

This show continues at Vertigo Theatrics in Flint’s Masonic Temple through January 30. For information contact the box office at 810-239-7469 or online at www.vertigotheatrics.com

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