Want to see the face of God? Go to the movies.
Or at least watch movies wherever you can find them. You can see, among others, George Burns in three “Oh, God!” films, Morgan Freeman in “Bruce Almighty” and its sequel, and Alanis Morissette as the deity with flowers in her hair in Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.”
On the other hand, someone has obviously put the fear of God into Broadway and off-Broadway.
Heaven and Earth’s creator does figure in stage productions now and then, but playwrights and producers seem to hold back when it comes to depicting his physical form.
In “Spamalot,” God was just the recorded voice of John Cleese. For “Angels in America,” which even has a scene set in heaven, Tony Kushner wrote God out of the script by explaining that he abandoned the universe in 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake, and was replaced by a seven-member Council of Principalities.
Jesus makes brief appearances in “The Book of Mormon,” but not his heavenly father. Even in “An Act of God,” which opened at Studio 54 recently, the deity of all deities makes it clear (in voice-over) that he’s not standing onstage. He’s simply borrowing Jim Parsons’s body.
David Javerbaum, who wrote “An Act of God,” wanted it that way. The power of illusion is different on screen, he maintains: “There’s already a level of mystique. If somebody’s playing God, he’s already larger than life. Onstage, it takes a little more audacity.”
There have been exceptions, though. A glance at stage history turns up some actors who have walked in his celestial shoes and others who have been his stand-in.
Broadway comedy, by David Javerbaum (2015).
Character: Jim Parsons.
Physical manifestation: A 42-year-old white guy with a slight Texas accent, wearing a flowing white robe and red sneakers. Played by Parsons. Real God represented by a booming male voice and an image from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Hobbies: “Awe and panic: my two all-time favorite human emotions.”
Policy statement: “Celebrities are my chosen people. I know, the Jews are also my chosen people, but there’s a lot of overlap.”
At work: He did create Adam and Steve.
Confession: “I have wrath-management issues.”
Broadway comedy, by Neil Simon (1974).
Character: Sidney Lipton, a friend of God’s. Of the real thing: “I didn’t actually see him. I heard him. ... There’s always a big light over him. The glare is murder.”
Physical manifestation: Bespectacled, somewhat epicene, 40-something white guy in a dirty, Robert Hall raincoat, Hush Puppies and a jersey emblazoned with a giant G (for God). Played by Charles Nelson Reilly.
Management style: Brutal cost cutting. “God laid off 1,400 people today. Everyone went: messengers, angels, bishops, Hebrew-school teachers.”
At work: Destroying the life of a faithful believer like Joseph Melvin Benjamin, just so he can make a bet with the Devil that no matter what, Joe (like Job) will not renounce God.
Opinion of humanity: Pessimistic. “Even God is with John Hancock.”
Broadway fable with music, by Marc Connelly (1930).
Character: God, aka the Lord, sometimes referred to as de Lawd.
Physical manifestation: A 66-year-old, Canadian-born black man with wavy white hair and the eyebrows of a magistrate. Played by Richard Berry Harrison.
Hobbies: Attending fish fries in heaven, smoking cigars, hurling lightning bolts at Earth.
Policy statement: One keg of liquor on board Noah’s ark is fine, but two is too many. No blues music on Sunday.
Manners: Impeccable. When Noah’s wife asks if he’s staying for dinner, he replies, “If I ain’t intrudin’.”
At work: Thinking, mostly, at the roll-top desk in the private office that he keeps “plain an’ simple on purpose,” to contrast with the rest of heaven.
Opinion of humanity: “All I gotta say dis yere mankind I been peoplin’ my Earth wid sho ain’t much.”
Solution for humanity: Less leisure time.
Off-Broadway play, by various authors (2014).
Physical manifestation: A 4-foot-2-inch white guy with sideburns, played by Matthew Jeffers.
Policy statement: “I need everyone to love me. ... I need it all — every atom of your heart, your soul, your beauty, your will.” (Lucifer’s opinion: “A cult-of-personality monster.”)
Manners: Uses hyphenated profanities. Occasionally speaks Latin.
At work: Arguing with angels, visiting Jesus in his tomb to resurrect him.
Solution for humanity: “Only want the things you have.”
Why he’s retiring: “People no longer need a tyrant to control them.”
London musical, by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee (2003, performed at Carnegie Hall in 2008).
Physical manifestation (No. 1): Stout, middle-age, preppy tenor, all in white, with a cardigan tied around his shoulders. (In London, the outfit shaded more toward Elvis impersonator.) Played by Luke Grooms in New York.
Physical manifestation (No. 2): Spends most of the show as Dwight, a self-satisfied “Jerry Springer Show” guest who’s cheating on his fiancee, Peaches, with her best friend and with a cross-dresser who looks a lot like Jared Leto.
Policy statement: “It ain’t easy being me.”
At work: Appears as a surprise talk-show guest in hell, battling with Satan over the host’s soul.
Dark, off-Broadway comedy, by Bruce Jay Friedman (1970).
Character: Puerto Rican steam room attendant.
Physical manifestation: A 33-year-old, Hispanic man in an undershirt, work pants and a black beret, wielding a mop and bucket. Played by Hector Elizondo.
Policy statement: “Changeable, mysterious, infinite, unfathomable. That’s my style.”
Manners: Occasional use of four-letter words, crude terms for the derriere and mild racial and sexual epithets.
At work: (Speaking into a console) “All right, first thing, I want that Pontiac moving south past Hermosa Beach to crash into the light blue El Dorado coming the other way. Make it a head-on collision.”
Solution for humanity: “Listen, if you’re God, the name of the game is aggravation. ... You say another word, baby, I’ll become wrathful and vengeance-seeking.”