Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: 'Making God Laugh'

'Making God Laugh' tries to be absurd and genuine and fails at both.

Review: 'Making God Laugh'


By Jim Rutter


After seeing Montgomery Theater’s production of Sean Grennan’s Making God Laugh, I'm thinking that Biblical standards of humor have declined a bit since Job’s time.

Grennan’s play spans 30 years, beginning in Thanksgiving 1980 and progressing through Christmas 1990, New Years Y2K and Easter, circa 2010. On each of these holidays, a trio of siblings learns the painful lesson that you can't go home again. The audience, by witnessing their lives progress from youthful promise to adult discontent, gets beat over the head by Grennan’s continually insisted upon theme: if you want to make god laugh, create plans so he can delight in their frustration. 

Anyone that watched scene one could set Vegas odds on each character’s destiny. The laugh-a-minute sitcom approach to comedy and completely inorganic approach to the dialogue finds few chuckles (and grows tiresome); larger laughs come from the inappropriate way in which the excellent Maureen Torsney-Weir straightforwardly derides her daughter’s weight and appearance. 

Although each scene escalates in absurdity (the house turns into a bunker during Y2K), Grennan frustrates these genuine attempts at humor by trying to tuck in sexual repression and by tacking on a disturbing denouement. Tom Quinn’s direction struggles to balance either approach and the cast can’t crystallize a disappointment that drags across decades.

Bob McDonald (as the eldest son Richard) nearly succeeds in eliciting all these elements in spite of the script's haphazard reaching. Though he plays most of his early scenes like a meth-addled Jim Carrey (think Ace Ventura), for a five minute monologue that caps Act One, he becomes a modern day Uncle Vanya, that exemplar of crushed promise that we neither fully laugh at nor pity, but who, in his attempt to defy the destiny of his own character, embodies the miserable, laughable (mis)fortune that could befall anyone. If only the rest of the production could keep up, we'd catch a glimpse of the tragicomedy called life that only a god could find funny.

Making God Laugh. Presented through December 8 at Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St. Souderton. Tickets: $27 to $35. Information: 215-723-9984 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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