Woody Allen’s God emerges in Chico

Ancient Greece meets modern Butte County in the plaza

DISEASE FREE?<br>Betty Burns (as Diabetes, left), pleads with JJ Hunt (as The King) for mercy.

Betty Burns (as Diabetes, left), pleads with JJ Hunt (as The King) for mercy.

Like television—and life—live theater can vary from, say, Shakespearean tragedy to romantic comedy to downright preposterousness.

God, a fast-paced Woody Allen creation adapted for Chico’s Shakespeare on the Plaza under the direction of local drama luminary Joe Hilsee, falls into the preposterous category. But in this case that’s not a bad thing.

Saturday at Chico City Plaza, lead character Betty Burns and company churned out 50 minutes of farcical absurdity that in its own comedic way seemed to leave the audience of about 200 fulfilled, though presumably in a decidedly different way than the troupe’s two other concurrent offerings, Enchanted April and Shakespeare’s King Lear.

God includes several former Blue Room/current Rogue Theatre members, including Hilsee, Burns, Ben Allen, JJ Hunt and Delovely Delisa. And it was preposterous all right, its simplified storyline telling the tale of an ancient Greek playwright and an actor who struggle to come up with an ending for a play, but who also realize they are just actors in a stage production taking place in downtown Chico, circa 2008. Or perhaps the audience was actually the cast, and those on stage were merely spectators.

Even the characters found the plot to be implausible.

“Highly metaphysical, isn’t it?” Burns (as Diabetes) asked.

“Not just metaphysical, it’s stupid,” Allen (as Hepatitis) replied.

The loose plot, which did indirectly involve God, was relatively unimportant. But the show was a fine avenue for wisecracks, one-liners and local references. Bits of A Streetcar Named Desire and a wonderful, Burns-articulated soliloquy from Gone With the Wind also found their way into the mix.

The troupe kept the audience civically engaged with mentions of such local landmarks as Duffy’s, Scrappy Dog and Flavor Falls restaurant, and with the answer to a question posed by Delisa (in the role of Butte College philosophy student Doris Levine), as to whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound. “Why do we even care?” Diabetes retorted. “It’s City Plaza; they took out all the trees!”

The audience was also collectively chided by a character as being “a bunch of farmers-market-going, granola chewing, dirt-twirling hippies.”

While Allen, Delisa, Hunt (as the King and Lauren Miller), Dana Moore (as The Master and “Woman with Knife in Chest") and Vince Laurie and Samantha Perry (as Bob and the purposely annoying, Fran Drescher-esque Wendy Fate) added their own unique personas, Burns was the play’s anchor. Throughout the rapidly paced production, she was a commanding, convincing and comedic presence with impeccable timing.

One byproduct of the play having one foot in ancient Greece and the other in modern Butte County was the unlikely romantic interaction between the desirable Doris Levine and the frisky Hepatitis. But that notion was quashed quickly.

“She’s Jewish, you’re fictional. Do you have any idea what kind of kids you’ll have?” Diabetes asked.

The permanent architecture of the City Plaza stage and bandshell is ready-made for Shakespeare on the Plaza productions. And the audience immediately accepted the lack of an elaborate stage set. (The logistics of performing three different plays in three nights renders sophisticated sets impossible.)

Unfortunately, on this night, chronic audio problems plagued the production, causing it to lose its footing a bit. If the show were a university class project, the ongoing, intermittent microphone crackles, hums and outages were sufficient to bring the performance down one letter grade, to a B-.

Allen, in particular, handled an awkward moment quite well. While the play utilized planted audience members, a couple of attendees, one an admitted homeless gentlemen, got into the act, blurting out “lines” from stage-left. Then, when a woman approached the stage to offer her own impromptu thoughts, Allen acknowledged her but kept in character until troupe managing director Jerry Miller tapped her on the shoulder and politely led her back to her seat.