By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Boz Lomasney (far left) as Sidney squares off against Joe L. Smith as Joe Benjamin (foreground) to test the endurance of Joe's faith in God. Yep, it is a comedy.
One of Neil Simon's less frequently produced works, “God's Favorite,” gets a zesty showcase at Roadrunner Theatre, 8892 E. Tanque Verde Road. The director is Larry Fuller, who lists his reasons right in the program for wanting to do this particular selection from Simon's oeuvre – as an homage to his parents, Ed and Edie Fuller.
“My father had been in numerous incarnations of the play with various theater companies,” Fuller wrote. “It was his favorite role and play."
Simon turned to the Old Testament Book of Job for his inspiration. He sets this story of God personally testing the faith of Job by sending hardship after hardship to see if Job would renounce God, in a palatial Long Island mansion in 1975.
Though this doesn't exactly sound like the stuff of comedy, Simon does make the humor sardonic enough to get the deeper point across and still be funny.
There are eight cast members but the heart of “God's Favorite” is in the banter and battles between long suffering Joe Benjamin (who endures the suffering), and God's hopelessly annoying messenger who calls himself Sidney Lipton.
Tucson newcomer and native New Yorker Joe L. Smith plays the severely tested Joe Benjamin. Always master of his own mansion, Joe never the less is also dedicated to his faith, giving half his income to charity.
Boz Lomasney throws himself into the Sidney role with a deliberately irritating laugh and a silly grin. The chemistry between Smith and Lomasney is the instant kind that immediately reassures every audience it is in good hands.
While Joe the self-made millionaire is a gruff guy in Act One, his confidence is no match for the antics of Sidney, constantly feeling superior because he knows exactly what God is planning next.
Considering the cynicism so rampant these days, we might be culturally unable to accept God as a Big Voice in the Sky. But Simon wrote lots of time references into the dialogue. He talks about wearing Hush Puppies, making toll-free telephone calls, watching “Hollywood Squares” and “The Exorcist,” among others.
Sidney calls himself “a friend of God,” only, not from God's inner circle or anything. He also reveals the Devil is handsome as Robert Redford.
So, finally, if you want to laugh at the jokes you must go along with the premise. As Joe loses his home, his business and his health, it is Sidney who keeps making the cracks.
And it is no spoiler to say there is a happy ending. Among the supporting cast, another new face, Chris Koval, makes a nice impression as David Benjamin the wastrel son who makes fun of his family's suffering.
“God's Favorite'” runs through July 2 with performances at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, at the Roadrunner Theatre Company, 8892 E. Tanque Verde Road.
Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 students and seniors, $15 military and groups of 10 or more. For details and reservations, 520-207-2491, or visit roadrunnertheatrecompany.org