There is no divine justice in Kevin Augustine’s The God Projekt, where the Big Guy is an old man in soiled pajamas who ignores us mortals completely while brooding over his Genesis-age exploits. In fact, even if you wanted him to strike you down with his almighty hand, he couldn’t be bothered, so preoccupied is he by his vanity – or distracted possibly by dementia – and a little monkey friend. But there is a nicely ironic justice in that an Augustine has imagined what might be the Confessions of this sorry figure, who, it turns out, is guilty of a host of deadly sins. But that’s all to the good in this hellishly funny satire of a beneficent Father in the Judeo-Christian strain.
Lone Wolf Tribe’s multimedia production, which returns to La MaMa’s annual Puppet Series after a run in 2013, deserves a second look. First of all, there are the startlingly grotesque puppets: different versions of Adam, whom this capricious Almighty half-fashioned then relegated to a dark dungeon to be devoured by rats (forget anything you know about a loving Lord in this God Projekt). Although they are just heaps, really, of graphically drawn sinews, organs and arteries, they are touchingly human in the hands of puppeteers Joseph Garner and Emily Marsh. There is also a mean streak of black humor, from God, who performs a Catskills-style stand-up act in the show’s second act, but which is reinforced throughout the show by a softly whining assistant (Edward Einhorn) who torments the All Holy with reminders of the thousands of unanswered prayers in his phone queue and who fiendishly reads more of these to the audience at the break. It’s a devilish pleasure to watch piety so boldly eschewed and faith just as carelessly flummoxed.
But the show also posits the question of an original female deity, such as exist in creation myths across many cultures, and imagines what Christian doctrine has done with her (it goes without saying the story doesn’t end well). That is a fairly novel and a challenging subject for theater to take on, extending from mythology to anthropology to biblical exegesis. The ghosts of Poe and Beckett also take their place in this waning Heaven that is more existential Hell, as do the Old Testament fathers and their personal struggles to yield to an omnipotent Yahweh.
Augustine carries it off, however, as The Father, a transfixing pantin in a frighteningly lifelike mask, charging around his ruin of an office littered with half-built contraptions and old video equipment used by this gargantuan egotist to film himself at work. One minute, he’s doing a wicked Henny Youngman (the comic’s “Take my wife – please!” is a running joke that glows with darker irony here); the next he is feeling the guilt of his misdeeds and blowing his brains out, repeatedly, since God can’t die… He is irresistible as malignant narcissists are and then, just as quickly, dangerously volatile and, then suddenly, pitifully old and decrepit. Augustine turns in a commandingly versatile performance.
If you’ve ever had a problem with the notion of a benevolent Father and wanted to raise a middle finger to the Heavens, The God Projekt might be the answer to your prayers. Turns out, God also uses the F-word and shakes his own fist plenty, at us. If you’re looking for him in Augustine’s heaven, though, resist the temptation; he has sailed off into the sunset leaving us in the hands of his grotesque minions and that should be your cue as well for a hearty, last laugh.