God of Marz, Rachel Shaw’s new play presented by Red Planet Theater Company, includes a warning upfront. A voice-over eschews the usual no-photos and no-cellphones reminder and (ungrammatically) informs the audience that “nothing the characters say or do does in any way reflect the views of the author, actors, directors, stage managers, costume designers, or the venue of this production. Some may find the material offensive and, if so, please leave quietly with no regrets.” Aside from the assumption that the play then does reflect the views of the lighting and scenic designers, for instance, some audience members might harbor an expectant thrill of an inflammatory evening at the theater. Alas, that’s not the case. At a recent performance there were indeed a handful of walkouts during the 75-minute show, but one might suspect that it was the result of boredom and not provocation.
The premise of the play is silly and in itself not particularly offensive. Kelly (Rachel Sheen) is a hotshot astronaut, and she is also a staunch feminist, a vegan, and an environmentalist with aspirations of Nobel Prizes and presidential victories. Telly (some cast members share roles with understudies; Marquis Wood performed the night I attended) is an Iraq veteran, whose primary short-term goal is to have sex with Kelly in the aircraft. The two are on a mission to Mars, and, after a system malfunction, Kelly and Telly are ejected into space and fortuitously land on the red planet.
With their oxygen running out and no idea how they will get back to Earth, they stumble upon a small house occupied by a chain-smoking, bourbon-swilling old woman (Laura Leigh Carroll), with curlers in her hair. They soon find out that she is God and they can quite literally breathe more easily. For reasons that are not quite clear, God has taken up residence on Mars, but one can only presume it is because the television reception is better there than in heaven. After all, God loves to watch Donald Trump videos as well as Oprah and Maury Povich reruns.
Also living in the house is God’s son, Jesus Christ (Adam Chisnall, an understudy as well), who is a swishing, martini-drinking, mama’s boy. When agitated, he spouts, “Oh, my Mom! Oh, my Mom!” God and Jesus regale the astronauts with updates on and emendations to the Bible, such as what Moses and the Virgin Mary have been up to in the last several millennia (and thereby justifying the play’s introductory apologia).
The only way the astronauts will be able to return to Earth is on the wings of the Devil, named Lucy (Chandler Converse). They must also bring with them God’s 11th Commandment: “Don’t be a TUNT.” (TUNT is God’s acronym for “tyrannical, unforgiving, narcissistic terrorist.”) On the way back to Earth they might even get to enjoy a performance by the Woman in the Moon.
God of Marz—the spelling of the planet also goes unexplained, although the Roman god of war is the source name both for it and for the month of March, which in German is März—bills itself as “a sexy, new comedy with a psychedelic twist!,” and the promotional material highlights the integration of dance, burlesque, and circus elements. The poster (designed by Bryan Ward) is a riff on pulp-fiction images with a picture of a strong astronaut holding a helpless, beautiful, bikini-clad woman in his arms. Therefore, one might happily envisage a campy, over-the-top, and ultra-theatrical show such as one might have experienced in Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Group, or more recently Company XIV, which presents classic tales through a burlesque lens.
In fact, the show, directed and choreographed by Glenn Girón, to original music by Mark Lazeski, has very little dancing. There is a throwaway opening go-go dance duet and a few short pas de deux for the astronauts. The centerpiece is an aerial hoop sequence performed by Sheen, but the musical and circus sequences seem to be included as afterthoughts rather than as organic to the piece. Consequently, the performers have to concentrate their efforts on mining laughs from the leaden material, and only occasionally do they succeed.
The show benefits from John Shaw’s 1970s-inspired, groovy scenic design and Nick Chavin’s alternately festive and moody lighting. (There is no costume credit despite the reference in the opening disclosure.) These are not enough, however, to make God of Marz incendiary, titillating, or aesthetically thrilling. Worst of all, it is as funny as an end-of-show Saturday Night Live sketch.
Red Planet Theater Company’s God of Marz plays through June 15 at the TBG Theater (312 West 36th St., 3rd floor). Performances are Monday through Sunday at 8:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday at 6 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults and $20 for students and seniors. For more information and tickets, visit godofmarz.com.