REVIEW: God Help Us! - Robert B. Wentz Theatre, Newport Harbor High School
Updated: May 7, 2019
"...Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!"
“God Help Us!” a left-versus-right laugh riot, finishes its three day run tonight at the elite Robert Wentz Theater at Newport Harbor High School, and stars none other than the onymous, grouchy Ed Asner as the crown of creation. This especially funny play that somehow manages to make the contact sport of politics entertaining has the ineffable Ed stealing the show during a parody debate, poking fun at the foibles of pundits and partners split by their world views. If you haven’t noticed…America is in conflict.
The whole red state versus blue state clash now dividing the USA between conservatives and liberals, pro and anti-Trumpers, etc., has surreptitiously infiltrated into our sit-coms, specials and award shows on network TV, theatre, and even on the big screen. Now this red against the blue trend has found its way onto the stage in Newport Beach. Disgusted by the state of the country, God has brought two politically-charged candidates to purgatory for a political debate. During the debate, God asks about domestic, international and personal issues, all the while commenting on the Bible, the big bang theory, the origin of mankind and more. The most persuasive of the two will get God’s “mighty thumb put on the scale” in their favor.
Playing the great creator, TV veteran extraordinaire Ed Asner has won more Prime Time Emmy awards than, well…God. Seven Emmys and five Golden Globes in all! Asner is a shrewd choice to portray the deity, and not solely because of his longevity (he’s almost 90), but also because of his screen and stage credits and vast resume of work, seemingly stretching back to Genesis. In addition to being one of our greatest comic and dramatic actors, he co-starred in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the groundbreaking “Rich Man, Poor Man,” and “Roots,” the TV mini-series. More recently, he starred on the big screen as Santa Claus in "Elf," and did the voice of Carl Fredricksen in the Academy Award-winning Pixar film "Up." oooohhhhhhh Mr. Grannnnt!
In 2018, he founded a foundation for special needs children. "I have an autistic son, and my older son, who is not autistic, has an autistic son. So it's a family business calling. We are concerned with, and of course, the exposure rate on autism is higher and higher. So there's a need for it. And I think that the various services the center offers are needed and effective and I think we will be able to do good," he said.
During the 1980s, when Asner was the Screen Actors Guild president - the same union Ronald Reagan once headed - Ed publicly clashed with Washington over its Central America policy. The dispute led to the cancellation of the hour-long series Asner was then starring in, “Lou Grant,” a dramatic spinoff of the newsroom character he’d portrayed opposite Mary Tyler Moore in their popular sitcom. The activist actor has since written 2017’s “The Grouchy Historian,” “An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-wing Hypocrites and Nut Jobs,” and taken public stands in favor of many progressive causes.
Mr. Asner was joined onstage by Pamela Guest and Stewart J. Zully portraying the characters Randi and Larry, who typify the kind of pundits proliferating on cable TV so-called “news” channels. Randi presents the conservative viewpoint, while Larry leans liberal, and they hold a debate, rather immoderately moderated by the title character. As these two debaters engage in oral trench warfare and belt out their points of view, God, sitting high on his throne, is alternately cantankerous, curmudgeonly, bemused and befuddled. To further complicate matters and heighten the comic possibilities in this Crossfire misfire, Randi and Larry are also ex-lovers.
Stewart J. Zully (Larry) has been working for over thirty-five years as an actor, director, producer, writer and teacher. His acting resume includes the films "Vice," "Wolf," "For the Boys," "Bonfire of the Vanities," "Malcolm X," "Fighting For Freedom" and "New In Town." On television he had a recurring role on "The Sopranos" and has appeared in "Bluebloods," "Law and Order," "Law and Order: SVU," "Law and Order CI," "Burn Notice," "Becker," "Columbo" and many others. In 2004, his commercial for Citibank's Identity Theft campaign won an Emmy as Best Commercial of The Year.
Pamela Guest (Randi) was recently awarded IndieFEST, Accolade and Best Actors Film Festival 'Best Leading Actress' for her portrayal of Elyse DeMeyers/Cleopatra in "Cleopatra Backstage." She often says she started her acting career at the top as DeNiro's Secretary in "The Last Tycoon" directed by Elia Kazon. Comedies followed: "Amazing Stories" "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" "Police Academy 6" "Californication," and "Married."
Mitch Levine, Director and Designer of “God Help Us!” is directing member of the Actors Studio and was a Fellow at Julliard School and the American Film Institute. Mr. Levine has won awards around the globe, directing films such as “In Confidence,” “Hungry is the Tiger” and “Morphing Gravity.” His adaptation for the stage production of “Godspell” as well as his production of Arthur Kopit’s “Wings” was a much-honored show on the west coast. Mr. Levine has also been Production Director of MOMIX Dance Theatre, as well as a special representative to the United Nations.
Produced by daughter, Liza Asner, she explains that “God Help Us!” is a play that ponders how wide contemporary America’s political divide has become. The premise is to see if old feelings and attraction between Randi and Larry have completely fizzled out or may still be smoldering beneath the surface. And…is their love of country able to transcend and span the gap between the right and the left? Ms. Asner’s production work includes many voice actor projects, publicity and photo exhibits, and has been touring for the past two years as Booker/Stage Manager with a previous Ed Asner production, “A Man and his Prostate.”
This witty, contemporary play is co-written by Phil Proctor and Samuel Warren Joseph. Mr. Proctor is an actor/ writer who has not only shared three Grammy nominations (Firesign Theatre), but also three daytime Emmies for voicing “Rugrats,”earning him a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. He has also shared Academy Awards for numerous Disney/Pixar movies and most recently an Audie for voice work on “Battlefield Earth.” His resume includes film credits with Orson Wells, Jack Nicholson, Tony Curtis and Tuesday Weld, to name a few.
Mr. Joseph’s credits include the movie, “Off Your Rocker,” which starred Milton Berle, Red Buttons & Dorothy Malone, and has written animation episodes for such shows as “Duck Tales,” “Dennis the Menace,” “Batman: The Animated Series,” and “Beast Wars.” In addition to his film and TV credits, he is a produced playwright, penning the script for the stage musical, “Campaign.” His comedy about marital infidelity, “Two Times Two,” premiered in New Orleans in 2010. Currently, he has a workshop production under way for a new musical, “Psychosexual: A Love Story.”
GOD HELP US! was a refreshing escape from the barrage of political scandals, competing networks, court battles, investigations and corruption rampant throughout Washington these days, and gave some quite interesting viewpoints on how we can recover as a nation and live together again. Ed Asner - the Great Neutralizer! All in all, a thoroughly entertaining ninety minutes with a TV icon I grew up with. Although the show has now closed, you may check for upcoming tour dates online at www.godhelpus.net.