Marsha Mason on Directing for Arizona Theatre Company's An Act of God

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An Act of God had two Broadway runs. Both times, God was a man. And so was the director.

But that's all changed with Arizona Theatre Company's production, in which both God and the director are women.

Paige Davis, who once hosted the popular Trading Spaces home renovation show, is God. And Marsha Mason is the director. Mason, who lives in New York, became a household name in the 1970s when she starred opposite Richard Dreyfuss in a film called The Goodbye Girl, written by prolific playwright (and her then-husband) Neil Simon.

It seems fitting that An Act of God should be part of the 50th anniversary season for Arizona Theatre Company, which practically needed an act of God to survive its own financial troubles in recent years — which required raising $2 million during a summer 2016 fundraising campaign.

Arizona Theatre Company's production of An Act of God opens at Herberger Theater Center on Thursday, November 17. It’s a comedic take on God’s 10 Commandments, which imagines God returning in human form to make a few adjustments to the code that hasn’t exactly kept humankind out of trouble. God shares the stage with two angels, Michael and Gabriel.

It isn't the first time Mason has taken up the directing mantle.

Mason’s long list of credits includes acting for theater, film, and television. But she also has directing credits that go back several decades, including productions of Chapter Two and Steel Magnolias at Bucks County Playhouse, a regional theater in New Hope, Pennsylvania. She got involved with Arizona Theatre Company after getting a phone call from artistic director David Ira Goldstein.

“David Ira Goldstein called me a few months ago and asked if I’d be interested, and it sounded like an exciting project,” Mason says. “I hadn’t worked with him before, but it’s been just terrific.” Mason has high praise for Arizona Theatre Company, describing those she’s worked with as hard-working and professional. “It’s been a dream come true for me,” Mason says.

Mason was especially intrigued by the prospect of God being a woman. “Redoing the play with a woman as God gave me a stepping off point,” Mason says.

An Act of God was written by David Javerbaum, who first channeled a snarky, disappointed God with his now-defunct @TheTweetofGod account, which led to a 2011 book titled The Last Testament: A Memoir by God.  Often the tweets called out humanity's stupidity, especially regarding politically-charged issues from global warming to gun violence.

Javerbaum has written material for comedy greats including David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert – earning 11 Emmys and several additional awards.

Despite its comedic approach, An Act of God has a serious side.

“The play deals with very deep philosophical themes,” Mason says. There’s the issue of creation, whether to place one’s faith in self or an outside force, and the need to honor one’s children. But don’t expect something preachy. “It’s done in a charming, fun, evolved, ironic, satirical way,” Mason says.

Mason spent four full weeks in rehearsals for An Act of God, including three weeks in Arizona and a week working with Davis in New York City. The show premièred in Tucson in October, as Arizona Theatre Company routinely performs in both Tucson and Phoenix. Mason is planning to attend the opening night performance at Herberger Theater Center.

Despite having a long career working at the national level, Mason says she’s proud to work with regional and community theaters like Arizona Theatre Company. “There’s some exciting work being done in regional theater,” Mason says. Even so, she acknowledges that it’s struggling because of a wealth of other entertainment options, including television, live streaming, and film.

"Regional theater is absolutely necessary, because it has a uniqueness you can’t get anywhere else," Mason says.

Arizona Theatre Company performs An Act of God from November 17 to December 4 at Herberger Theater Company. Tickets start at $25, and are available through the Herberger Theater Center box office.

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