Theater Review: MAN OF GOD (Geffen Playhouse)

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by Tony Frankel on June 2, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles


Four Korean teen missionaries from Los Angeles — Kyung-Hwa (Ji-Young Yoo), Samantha (Shirley Chen), Jen (Emma Galbraith), and Mimi (Erin Rae Li) — have arrived in Bangkok with their pastor to save the souls of red light district tourists … you know, the Germans who come to piddle with little boys dressed as girls. But it is the souls of the girls that are at stake in the relevant, funny, astoundingly observant play Man of God, which opened last weekend at the Geffen Playhouse. Right at the start, one of the girls discovers a hidden camera in their shared bathroom. The camera, we soon find, has been implanted by their pastor. Now that the male gaze has entered their lives, what are these four knowledgeable girls-of-prey to do? Playwright Anna Moench juxtaposes fantastical, thrilling revenge scenes that take on the pastor with others that underscore how the girls can tear each other apart while the enemy retains the power.

The Geffen production is billed as a feminist thriller, but that is misleading (Wait Until Dark is a feminist thriller). What the show will do is turn you into a feminist (if you’re not one already). The fascinating aspect here is that Moench pulls a sort of Rashomon on us, with each girl’s perception and past experience creating reactions in vastly different ways (one is filled with bloodthirsty chutzpah, one has been abused, another naïve, etc.).

The show has thankfully been reworked somewhat since its 2017 world premiere at East West Players; it feels tighter. And Phyllis Schuringa‘s casting here is phenomenal. Not once did I see these distinctive actresses “acting.” Director Maggie Burrows keeps the focus sharp, not an easy thing to do in such a small hotel room with a lot of action. Se Oh‘s realistic scenic design and awesome glass shower ensures that we can see the horrors that happen in the tub. The colors and furniture are uber-tacky, while lights by the great Lap Chi Chu vacillate between ghoulish and garish, and a neon sign just outside the window casts a sickly pallor. Thomas Isao Morimaka‘s  revenge sword fight is worthy of Tarantino, Jonathan Snipes‘ sound design aids in the thrill, and notice that Denitsa Bliznakova‘s commendable costumes help create character — even the revenge outfits don’t pull focus. A remarkable design team.

These are very smart girls, archetypes almost, and while the ending may be disappointing at first for the audience, it is necessary to underscore the powerlessness and fear most abused people experience. (Albert Park as the Pastor turning from the milk of human kindness to scarier than shit sure helps.) Give the experience time to settle in, as Moench covers a lot of bases in 90 minutes. The saddest part never occurs during the show, but after, when we realize that there is a great possibility that these teenagers won’t be believed. And if they are, what will that do to their lives? What do you think will happen to the characters after the curtain falls?

photos by Jeff Lorch

Man of God
Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, 10866 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on June 19, 2022
for tickets ($30.00 – $129.00), call 310.208.2028 or visit Geffen Playhouse

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