“God’s Favorite” is a 1975 play by Neil Simon based off of the Book of Job from the Bible. Is it possible to put on a religious play like this in today’s political climate? On April 5, Three Notch Theatre’s Newtowne Players attempted to answer that question.
Joe Benjamin (played by Robert K. Rausch) is a proud Christian man with a successful cardboard box factory, is married to Rose (Robin Finnacom), and has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to a comfortable life in an expensive neighborhood. While they have their troubles, namely their bum of a son, David (Nick Wood), the Benjamins move through life with relative ease.
However, this all changes when a messenger of God, Sydney Lipton (James LePore), visits Joe at midnight to announce that he is God’s favorite. This would-be blessing turns out to be a curse, as God and Satan have decided to test Joe’s faith by destroying everything he loves.
Another high point of “God’s Favorite” is the incredible set design. The set was mostly period accurate, due in no small part to the furniture contributions made by Grapevine Antiques and Collectibles. Overall, the set made me feel immersed in the setting of the play. Then, in the third act, it was revealed that the set could rotate. This is an incredible feat for any theatre company, especially one as small as The Newtowne Players. This impressed me.
The only major problem of “God’s Favorite” is the incredible sexism in one of the running jokes. When it seems as though the house has been broken into, the daughter Sarah wonders if the intruder might be a rapist, then continues to drag the gag along as if she looks forward to a potential sexual assault. Later in the play, Sarah remarks that she was turned on by a man stalking her in the city. Rape jokes are never funny, and it is troubling to see this crime portrayed as if Sarah “wants it.” This is a toxic message to give the audience, even if it is played off for laughs. Although sometimes, depending on the playwright, a director is not allowed to change the script, I still would have liked to see this running joke removed.
Overall, “God’s Favorite” is a fun play, with the witty banter and physical humor common in Simon’s work. Robin Finnacom shines as Rose Benjamin, playing up her spoiled character in every way, from line delivery to her subtle movements. James LePore’s performance of Sydney also stands out. LePore is energetic from the very beginning until his last line. The cast as a whole works seamlessly together, which is clearest in their shared moments of physical comedy.
Their chemistry makes the show a cut above average community theatre.
Neil Simon’s “God’s Favorite” is directed by Rick Thompson, with set design by Dave Kyser and Linda Sanborn and costume design by Millie Coryer-Dhu. This play runs from April 6 to 22 at Three Notch Theatre in Lexington Park, MD with a runtime of around 140 minutes. Tickets can be ordered on their website, newtowneplayers.org, or by calling their box office at 301-737-5447.