Cape Fear Playhouse
613 Castle St. • (910) 367-5237
4/12-15, 19-22, 26-29, 8 p.m.
Sun. matinees, 3 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$20 • www.etix.com
When the board members at Big Dawg Productions chose Neil Simon’s “God’s Favorite” as their spring play, Tony Moore seemed the obvious directorial choice. Moore already had experience leading the comedic genius’ work, as he directed last year’s production of “Rumors.”
“Comedy’s kinda my niche as far as directing goes,” says Moore, who has been onstage in some form or fashion since his first drama classes in high school.
Moore had never actually seen the play before taking on this project. However, he was eager as ever to begin production.
“My first impression upon reading it was excitement,” he says. “It’s a totally different comedy than what I’m used to. It has a well-known story as its muse, and it really excels at making it relatable for the audience.”
“God’s Favorite” is essentially a condensed version of the biblical “Book of Job.” It follows the same basic storyline: a man, Joe Benjamin (Bradley Coxe), appears to have everything—a wife, multiple children, a mansion, and an abundance of money. But he is warned by a messenger from God (Ron Hasson) that the Devil is going to test his faith. Joe Benjamin (get it—“Jo-B”enjamin?) endures physical ailments, his house and business gets destroyed, and his wife and children are anything but grateful for the life they lead.
While the story remains true to its material source, the production does not lean on religion as a selling point. “It doesn’t push religious morals,” Moore clarifies. “Neil Simon ‘borrowed’ the story from the Bible and modernized it, putting a comedic spin on an old [tale].”
Audiences will connect to the story because Simon is an expert at his work. “That’s why I’ve always admired him,” Moore says. “When I write plays, I emulate his style (as best I can anyway). Neil Simon uses cultural references that are hilarious and period-specific, and it really helps to set the mood of the time.” He also weaves in elements of light and dark with the good and evil to further illustrate the main theme of the play.
“God’s Favorite” features an ensemble cast of eight across a spectrum of talent, from college students to “grown-ups.” When asked if any one performance will stand out above the rest, Moore replies, “Everybody! The characters are all so different, so they stand out on their own. The characters are all fully developed with great comedic timing.”
Other standouts in the cast include Jordan Stallings as Ben Benjamin, Erika Hendrix as Sarah Benjamin, Elaine Nalee as Rose Benjamin, Nate Kistler as David Benjamin, Beth Raynor as Mady, and Chase Harrison as Morris.
Making sure the pacing of the play is accurate was one of the most challenging parts of the planning and rehearsal stages. Moore’s dedication to seeing an equilibrium between comedy and drama was key. “We can make you laugh as much as we can make you cry,” he promises
For anyone who has seen a rendition of the play, they will notice a change in the characters of Mady and Morris. “They are typically played by older actors,” Moore explains, “but we aged them down, and in doing so, added a new element to the show—one which I can’t give away, but one that I think will work in our comedic and symbolic favor.”
In addition to the material, the set design became a tricky endeavor for the Big Dawg crew. In the midst of all of his troubles, Joe Benjamin suffers from a lack of comfort while his house and possessions are all completely annihilated. “We have to destroy the set during intermission,” Moore says. It’s not as awful as it sounds, though. Rather than taking it apart and having to re-build the entire arrangement every time they put on a show, Moore and the crew have figured out a more efficient way to create the same effect. “We take parts away,” he says, “add on pieces that have already been destroyed. There’s going to be debris all over the floor—it’ll look like a wreck.”
While the emotionally dramatic scenes are as equally fantastic, Moore’s personal favorite is a gut-buster, “when the messenger appears and tries to explain to Joe who he is. He’s eccentric, and you can never quite get a handle on who he is. Watching Joe try to figure it out—it’s hilarious.”
Moore’s version of “God’s Favorite” will resonate, not only because of its strong acting and in-depth set changes, but because of the material in and of itself. “We have to treat it delicately because it’s an old story,” Moore says. An open-minded audience will see its layers.
“God’s Favorite” opens on April 12th at 8 p.m. at the Cape Fear Playhouse, 613 Castle Street. Other performances will be held April 13th through 15th, 19th through 22nd, and 26th through 29th. All shows will start at 8 p.m., with the exception of 3 p.m. Sunday matinees. Tickets are $20 or $18 for students, seniors, and military. Thursday shows will be $15 for everyone. Call 910-367-5237 for tickets or visit eTix.com.