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2018 Fall Theater Preview: Beck Center kicks off 85th season with heavenly casting of Mike Polk Jr. in ‘An Act of God’

September 20, 2018

2018 Fall Theater Preview: Beck Center kicks off 85th season with heavenly casting of Mike Polk Jr. in ‘An Act of God’

CLEVELAND, Ohio – It ain’t easy being omniscient. Just ask Mike Polk Jr., smiting and jiving as the Almighty at the Beck Center for the Arts in “An Act of God,” the first production of the Lakewood theater’s 85th season.

When he won the part of the Creator of the Earth and Universe “I was as surprised as anybody,” says Polk.

“I think it probably was a little bit like when Trump won the Presidency. I don’t think he was really planning on winning and as soon as it happened he was like, ‘Oh no. Now I gotta do this.’ ”

While Polk says he’s spent years “bombing in this area’s finest taverns” doing stand-up, this is his first starring role in a mainstage theater production.

“An Act of God” is essentially a wickedly fun one-man show filled with lots of snark, humanism and some light blasphemy – or good-natured irreverence, depending on your worldview – with angels Michael (Allan Byrne) and Gabriel (Brian Pedaci) serving aa winged Vanna Whites to his all-powerful, petulant Pat Sajak.

God has decided to inhabit the body of “exclusively regional comedian” Mike Polk Jr. to revise his 10 Commandments – “Thou shalt not kill,” for instance, becomes “Thou shalt not kill in my name” – and field canned questions from the audience.

Polk scrawled crib notes on his hand to help him recall some 27 pages of dialogue requiring him to be onstage, talking, for about an hour an half.

“The good news is, at the rate that I’m forgetting lines, I think I can get that down to 55 minutes,” says Polk. “You can still get to Applebee’s before they close at 10.”

Is he allowed to occasionally improvise?

“It’s been made clear to me I’m not welcome to add things in,” says Polk. “Or, if I just forget an entire section, I’m not allowed to say yadda yadda yadda. Stuff like that. (On opening night, there was not a single yadda and those crib notes seemed to work wonders. Polk, perfectly cast, killed.)

Still, there are parts he wishes he could tinker with. “But you can’t just alter somebody’s writing,” says Polk, “especially someone who is obviously much more successful – who’s a “Daily Show” producer and has got, like, 40 Emmys . . .”

That’s former “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” executive producer and head writer David Javerbaum and he has, like, 13 Emmys.

Javerbaum’s crush of trophies aside, we thought Polk deserved a shot at playing the Supreme Being with no filters (off the cuff, before a rehearsal). Below are excerpts from our Q&A with God

US: Of all humankind, why talk to Kanye?

GOD: He’s an interesting guy. Honestly, sometimes I’m regretful that I endowed him with those talents – I wish I would have pointed them at somebody else. He went a little off the rails, didn’t he? But then, who am I to judge?

I am a big fan of his earlier work – pre-Kardashian. Not to bring up my own work or anything, but I think we’ve got a little Sampson and Delilah situation going on there. I think that his strength was sapped by a woman who didn’t have his best interests in mind. We’re dealing with that behind the scenes. You’ll see some movement pretty soon.

US: Why did you make sin so fun?

GOD: Great question. If you think about it, sin in essence, is temptation. Temptation should be fun! I have to test you people somehow. You know that.

Now, if I were to test you by saying, “Hey guys – cauliflower’s off limits!” That’s a very easy thing to obey. Cauliflower is a vile weed that I created more as a joke. And then I saw that people were eating it and I was like, really? Okaaaay. And I just let it go.

But saying, “Masturbation . . . envy . . . gluttony, all of those things are off limits,” now I get to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I created sin to be wonderful and fun and sexy because otherwise, there’s no temptation. And then I can’t tell the people who are all about me from the people who are logical and enjoy their lives free from my condemnation.

US: I’ve always had a problem with the whole woman-from-Adam’s-rib thing. Isn’t it just a lot of patriarchal propaganda?

GOD: I’m glad you brought that up. I’ve been meaning to clarify this for a very long time. Although it’s funny – you’re the first person to question in any way that whole biblical story about Adam and Eve.

But yes, you’re right – it was pretty sexist. And by the way, you know I’m genderless. I complained in the ear of many popes over the centuries, who kept saying, “No it’s all about the dudes. The ladies are inferior.” And I was, like, “Pontiffs, chill. I’m trying to make it an acceptable world for everyone where we’re all equals.” But they saw it a different way. You gotta let kids be kids.

I’m letting you guys figure your stuff out. But it is taking forever.

I think we’re startin’ to make some headway, especially with this whole Harvey Weinstein thing. I will not be seeing him anytime soon – I promise you that. YOU HEARD ME HARVEY! He’s never spoken to me.

US: Why do you hate Browns fans so much?

GOD: I understand where that perception comes from but believe it or not, I am a Browns fan.

It’s totally easy to root for the New England Patriots – there’s no honor in it.

The Devil loves the Patriots. God loves the Browns. And I feel the same way about Browns fans.

You asked me earlier about why I test mankind in the ways that I do – why did I make sin so great? Because again, it’s to give you something to overcome.

I give people that I have hope for something to try and overcome and prove themselves to me. And I did the same thing with Cleveland Browns fans. Have you ever heard the story of Job? I’ve tested them longer technically than I tested Job which is crazy because I really gave him the business.

But who knows? Maybe things will turn around this year? Wink, wink.

You guys are the most patient, loving and faithful people that I’ve ever came across. I don’t understand you but I appreciate you.

Times, tickets and more

All performances are at theaters inside the Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, with free onsite parking.

Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, except where noted. Previews are 8 p.m. the Thursday before opening night, with general-admission seating for $10.

Single tickets are $33; $29, seniors 65 and older; $12, students with valid ID. A $3 service fee per single ticket will be applied at time of purchase. A $3 service fee per single ticket will be applied at time of purchase. Visit beckcenter.org or call 216-521-2540 x10.

2018-19 Beck Center for the Arts Mainstage Season

The following descriptions are based on information provided by the Beck and the reporter’s own notebook. 

Through Sunday, Oct. 7, Mackey Theater: “An Act of God.” Written by David Javerbaum. Directed by William Roudebush. Regional premiere.

Who knew the Almighty was so chatty? God, with the help of his devoted angels, answers some of the deepest questions that have plagued mankind since Creation. 

From the brain of the former head writer of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” this Q&A with the Creator sets the record straight - and he’s not holding back.

Friday, Oct. 5-Sunday, Nov. 4, Studio Theater: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Written by Edward Albee. Directed by Directed by Donald Carrier.

George, a professor at a small college, and his wife, Martha, have just returned home, very drunk, from a party. Martha, much to George’s displeasure, has invited the opportunistic new professor and his wife over for a nightcap. As the evening progresses, George and Martha use their guests as pawns in increasingly cruel mind games, leading to a devastating revelation.

This masterwork of American theater earned its place in the pantheon for its unforgettable characters and dazzling verbal repartee that elevates marital bickering to operatic levels of nastiness.

Friday, Dec. 7-Sunday, Jan. 6, Mackey: “Shrek the Musical.” Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Choreography by Martín Céspedes. Musical direction by Larry Goodpaster. Directed by Scott Spence.

An unlikely hero finds himself on a life-changing journey alongside a wisecracking donkey and a feisty princess who resists rescue. Throw in a short-tempered bad guy, a cookie with an attitude and more than a dozen other fairy tale misfits, and you’ve got a crowd-pleasing hit with a message that’s hard to resist: Let your freak flag fly.

Audiences will see a famous familiar face under that famous green makeup - Gilgamesh Taggett, who played Daddy Warbucks at the Beck for two seasons in “Annie” before landing the same role in the national tour.

Friday, Feb. 8-Sunday, Feb. 24, Mackey: “Once.” Music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Directed by Victoria Bussert. In collaboration with Baldwin Wallace University music theater program. Locally produced premiere, with special Wednesday and Thursday evening performances Feb. 14, 20 and 21.

At the center of this bittersweet love story set in Dublin, Ireland, is Guy’s passion for Girl, her yen for him, and their shared ardor for music.

“Once” requires a cast of triple threats – performers who can act, sing, and play a host of instruments, too. Not a problem for the ever-versatile BW students who have been boning up on violin, guitar and more.

Friday, March 15-Sunday, April 14, Studio: “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” Written by Lanie Robertson. Directed by Scott Spence.

In 1959 at a small Philadelphia club, Billie Holiday takes the stage for one of the last shows of her accomplished, turbulent life. Nicknamed “Lady Day” by saxophonist Lester Young, the legend interlaces more than a dozen musical numbers, including “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit,” with salty, humorous reminiscences.

To get audiences in the cabaret mood, the Beck will transform its intimate Studio Theater into a bluesy dive, complete with some onstage seating.

Friday, May 31-Sunday, June 30, 2019, Studio: “King Lear.” Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Eric Schmiedl.

Aging, arrogant King Lear prepares to divide his estate among his three daughters, ultimately refusing his youngest and favorite her share because she won’t publicly proclaim her love for him. The decision triggers chaos in the kingdom and madness for its monarch.

Staged in the smaller confines of the Studio Theater with a pared down cast, this Lakewood “Lear” promises to be an event on a more human scale.

Friday, July 12-Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, Mackey: “Matilda the Musical.” Book by Dennis Kelly. Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. Choreography by Martín Céspedes. Musical direction by Larry Goodpaster. Directed by Scott Spence. Locally produced premiere.

Matilda is an extraordinary girl with a vivid imagination and sharp mind whose talents are constantly belittled by her awful parents and horrid headmistress.

Dreaming of a better life, she dares to take a stand against these oppressive forces with help from her loving teacher, Miss Honey, and a little telekinesis.

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