Who: Central New York Playhouse
Where: 3649 Erie Boulevard East, Syracuse, NY
When: Through March 28
Review by: Lateshia Beachum
Neil Simon’s God’s Favorite has made its way to the Central New York Playhouse.
God’s Favorite is slightly based on the Bible’s “The Book of Job” in which the faithful Job’s commitment to God is tested by losing his property and his children.
The version of Job in God’s Favorite is a wealthy Long Island businessman who goes by the name Joe Benjamin (Edward Mastin). The God-loving Benjamin shares his home with his flighty, materialistic wife Rose (Michaela Oney), odd twins Sarah and Ben (Sarah Anson and Conlan Doran), a reckless son David (Jesse Orton), Mady the maid and Morris the butler (Betsy York and Phil Brady).
Joe Benjamin is introduced to his tests by Sydney Lipton (Lanny Freshman), God’s representative, who appears with a gold “G” on his white shirt under a long coat and turtle hat.
Freshman brought fresh air to the stage, and he would possibly emerge as God’s favorite if God were judging acting performances. He makes the nearly two and a half hour show worth seeing. When he is missing from the stage, general interest in the others follows suit. Freshman is Sydney Lipton. He is dynamic and artful. He is the play.
Simon’s play would’ve been served more justice if the remnants of Freshman’s performance were somewhat sprinkled over the confusing set, which looked more like a 1940s New York apartment than a 1970s mansion. The candlestick telephone, salmon-colored walls and overall lack of opulence made the time frame and social status of the Benjamin’s hazy until Sydney Lipton appears with pop culture and movie references. The set design helps narrate the story best when Joe (Mastin) becomes penurious by the second act.
The play starts with a convincing performance from Mastin as a pragmatic father trying to find out why his house alarm was buzzing off. His performance was the perfect balance for Anson’s always open-mouthed, doe-eyed Sarah and Doran’s vanilla Ben. Yet, Mastin’s voice does most of the acting for him throughout the rest of the play. His rage and sorrow are more heard in his voice than seen on his face.
Rose Benjamin’s (Oney) personality comes out in brief spurts when she has some zinger to deliver or to banter, but she otherwise melts into the puzzling set upon which she steps.
David Benjamin (Orton) can’t decide if he’s drunk, focused, sleepy or whatever emotion a drunken prodigal son feels when getting under his father’s skin. David has potential with his words, but the lazy execution of them shoots it down.
What gets shot down more than David’s potential are the English accents of the help. While it might be hard pull off an English accent, the commitment that Joe showed to God should be seen in trying to keep it throughout the show. By the second act, York gives up on being English and turns into any New Yorker heard on the street. Brady joins her in the defeat and barely tries to stop pronouncing the “er-s” at the end of words.
“God’s Favorite” is saved from the wrath of theater gods not only because of Freshman, but also because it’s hard to completely mess up art that was so well-written. Simon wrote a play that any actor of any level can perform. It’s a play with a well-known story mixed with the right amount of humor that can be enjoyed by diverse crowds.