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Sean Hayes plays the Creator with ironic camp in 'An Act of God' at the Ahmanson Theatre

Sean Hayes plays the Creator with ironic camp in 'An Act of God' at the Ahmanson Theatre
Sean Hayes stars as the Almighty in "An Act of God" at the Ahmanson Theatre. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

God is headlining at the Ahmanson Theatre in the Broadway comedy "An Act of God," but please don't think of this as the Second Coming.

This appearance is really more of a tease, an occasion for sketch comedy rather than prophetic drama. The Rapture can wait as jokes are delivered rat-a-tat by Sean Hayes, the celebrity whose mortal body and sense of ironic camp the Almighty has decided to borrow for this earthly gig.

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The show is ghost written (as all the Lord's most renowned works are) by David Javerbaum, former Emmy-winning head writer for "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and the wisecracking mind behind the popular Twitter account God (@TheTweetofGod). "An Act of God" was adapted from Javerbaum's impiously-titled book "The Last Testament: A Memoir by God."

The tone is a bit more caustic on social media, the comedy a little more politically pointed, but God gets in a few jabs at Donald Trump and Ted Cruz at the Ahmanson, where the show opened Wednesday. There's also some joshing with audience members, whose minds are read by Michael (David Josefsberg), one of the two wing-bearing male angels performing God's theatrical bidding.

What has brought our Creator down from heaven to a stage in Los Angeles, sardonically described as "the theater capital of the world"?

"Tonight I shall give thee a new Ten Commandments, one that will forever end that uncertainty regarding what it is I desire from humanity that has caused so much bitterness and hatred among you over the millennia, all of which I find very flattering. Thanks again. Means a lot."

Apparently, God's grace doesn't apply to syntax. But more important, His words reveal a simmering anger over the way His laws have been misinterpreted and manipulated by idiot moralizers.

The King of Kings is on a mission to enlighten these hypocritical zealots, though in taking His show to Los Angeles and His next stop, San Francisco, He's preaching to the converted. He really ought to travel to the evangelical heartland and to the bible-thumping Deep South if He wants to attack the source of the problem, though that would require beefing up His security detail. I wouldn't want to see the good Lord have His head handed to him.

The first new commandment is the same as the old one — in short, He's still the boss, so back up all you egomaniacal posers. As there's nothing further to explain, He takes this moment to revisit the world's origins, as scientifically established in Genesis.

James Gleason, left, Sean Hayes and David Josefsberg in "An Act of God" at the Ahmanson Theatre.
James Gleason, left, Sean Hayes and David Josefsberg in "An Act of God" at the Ahmanson Theatre. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Gabriel, the other angel (played by James Gleason, a dead ringer for the late celebrity crime writer Dominick Dunne), has the honor of reading the pertinent verses while God provides fizzy annotation. ("I loved making the dry land. Loved it.")

Interesting that God should twice choose to take the form of a gay male actor whose fame derives from TV sitcom land. Hayes, best known for his flamboyant tomfoolery in "Will & Grace," follows in the footsteps of Jim Parsons (of "The Big Bang Theory"), who originated the role on Broadway.

The Almighty's omniscience clearly includes a knowledge of Nielsen ratings and their theatrical box office implications. But His casting bespeaks above all an open-mindedness and an awareness that this Newer Testament is best delivered in a Martini-dry tone and punctuated with a slow-burn.

A segment on Adam and Steve, the earth's first couple, allows Javerbaum to indulge in some overly familiar camp. (Paul Rudnick traversed the same territory in "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.") A longish riff on Abraham's sacrifice draws out Javerbaum's more serious side, questioning why anyone would put their faith in an entity that is clearly not always mentally stable, never mind kind or considerate.

Michael goes rogue at one point and demands an answer to unresolved philosophical questions: "Why is there suffering? Why is there so much injustice? Why should there be any injustice? ... Where were you during the Holocaust?"

As "An Act of God" turned-quasi serious, my thoughts began to grow heretical in a different vein: Is this what passes for a hit Broadway comedy these days? Are we really expected to take any of this theology seriously? How many more minutes till we get to the final commandment?

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The production, which is immaculately directed by Broadway veteran Joe Mantello, plays out on a set by Scott Pask that combines a "Queer Eye"-esque take on a talk show with a stairway-to-heaven theme. The visual cotton candy — clouds scuttling by in the backdrop, a white couch fit to enthrone either Ellen DeGeneres or Merv Griffin — is the objective correlative of a show that provokes laughter of the most evaporative kind.

But of course there's nothing wrong with light diversion, especially when served with Hayes' eye-brow-arched flair. He may be the gayest straight man in comedy today. His humor gains force by the way he conspicuously withholds what he'd really like to say. A scent of knowledge too naughty to name perfumes the air around him.

Just like in the Old Testament, God is at his exhilarating best when His "wrath-management" issues come to the fore. (When his mood turns benevolent, his sermon grows New Agey.) It's about time someone took politicians and sports heroes to task for vainly invoking His name in victory. Comedy may not be as effective as a lightning bolt but it's a heck of a lot less messy.

Twitter: @CharlesMcNulty

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'An Act of God'

Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 13

Tickets: $25 to $130 (subject to change)

Info: (213) 972-4400 or www.centertheatregroup.org

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission)

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