Kathleen O’Neill has spent the last eight years writing The God Blog, a corporate-satire-within-a-radio-play, set in heaven and staffed by Old Testament figures (performed at the Art Academy of Cincinnati). She and director Shawn Maus, who also plays the role of God, have assembled an enormous (by Fringe Festival standards) cast and crew to live-produce this radio drama.
In it, God’s dial-a-prayer corporation Celestial Services is in trouble. Driven to near-obsolescence by the benign negligence of CEO “Big Guy” God and the draconian cost-cutting measures of new-agey, Johnny-come-lately consultant “Luce” Lucifer, the company is facing a crossroads — and an efficiency audit led by the angel Gabe (Eddie Davenport).
Gentle satire, if not outright hilarity, ensues. A parade of ridiculous acronyms seems a likely swipe at a local megacorp’s practice of turning perfectly decent phrases into unpronounceable strings of initials. A convoluted corporate structure pokes fun at the bureaucracies that grow to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy. Outsourcing heavenly operations pollutes morale. Hostility between angels and saints echoes the current union-busting class warfare in the headlines. Ongoing spoofs of irritating on-hold customer service messages and “buy-buy-buy!” radio ads break up the meeting-driven narrative that excoriates capitalist jingoism, but doesn’t delve much deeper.
Most of the many, many characters serve to deliver one-liners. Keeping the characters and the plot straight is a chore that doesn’t enhance the storytelling, so audiences should stop trying and just focus on the gags.
O’Neill herself shines in her roles as Cherub, Joan of Arc and Commercial Announcer. She’s in love with this moment, and it comes through in her performance. Doug Rieselman has a fantastic voice, but his antagonist “Luce” comes off as a sympathetic character who happens to be a bad boss but ultimately means well. Lisa Cupito (St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Paul) also has a great radio voice, and I’d like to see her in an expanded role.
A few more rehearsals would improve timing, and another round of work-shopping might improve the script. Ultimately, though, the script might fall victim to its own lengthy gestation: it feels like O’Neill has packed eight years’ worth of ideas into a bite-sized 60 minutes.
A tenuous plot, too many characters, groan-inducing bio-gags, cornball one-liners and attempts at blending churchy parable with newsworthy satire drag down a production that could pick two or three things to focus on and do it better.
That said, O’Neill’s work is a great example of why the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival is so important. Sometimes, a Fringe piece is rare artistic genius awaiting notice. Much of Fringe, The God Blog included, is earnest amateur passion given the stage and the audience to stretch, try something new, open its mouth and sing. I’m glad O’Neill found her voice.