The God Botherers
nytheatre.com review by Kelly McAllister
March 16, 2005
Richard Bean’s play The God Botherers is a sharp, dark comedy about volunteerism, third world culture clash, and the lack of idealism in most so-called idealists. A "God Botherer" according to Bean (in an interview on Synapse Productions' website) is someone who “shoves their faith down your throat.” The play is full of botherers of all stripes, shoving secularism, Christianity, Islam—you name it—down everyone else’s throats.
Set in a made up country called Tambia, the play follows the adventures of Laura, an American bombshell with a penchant for People magazine, whose good intentions are hampered by a tremendous lack of knowledge of the local customs. Laura has somehow recently graduated from Brown University—which in the world of the play is a place where apparently anyone can get a degree—and for reasons that are never that clear, has joined an NGO (non-governmental organization, like C.A.R.E.). The NGO she works for has been in Tambia for some time, helping set up water works and storage bins for corn; the actual work that the organization does is never given much focus in the script, which I think is a minor fault of the play. Laura is the novice, the audience surrogate through whose eyes we experience this story.
She is partnered with Keith, a wise, curmudgeonly, and totally jaded turd of a man who calls himself a Christian. Keith has been in the business of nonprofit volunteer work in aboriginal countries for years, drinks like a fish, and has several ex-wives. He also, unfortunately for him, has a dim memory of what it means to be ethical. Keith and Heidi employ a local Christian/Muslim/Pagan by the name of Monday—who, of course, turns out be the wise fool. Rounding out the cast of characters is Ibrahima, a pregnant local woman who is part-time prostitute, part-time maid.
The main conflict in the play is the clash of beliefs about how people should function in society—every character in the play has his or her own idea of morality, God, how men and women should intermingle, etc. Both Keith and Laura become involved with the locals, telling them how behind the times they are, and handing out cell phones. The locals are equally adept at telling the Westerners that it is they who have the wrong idea about how to go about living; that it’s the Westerners who are backward. In short, every character is his or her own God Botherer. It makes for a bleak vision of what goes on in all those poor countries Sally Struthers is always talking about, but a smart, funny vision, too. Really makes you want to keep sending money to organizations like C.A.R.E. and Amnesty, doesn’t it? This is black comedy at it’s bleakest, a world full of whackos with no voice of reason to be found—like M*A*S*H minus Hawkeye.
Bean, a popular playwright in England, gets his American premiere with this production. His dialogue is sharp, his characters well defined, and his story compelling. David Travis directs the play at a frenetic pace, which fits the tone of the show. The cast is excellent. As Keith, Michael Warner gives a pitch-perfect portrayal of a man who is a shadow of his former self. As Laura, Heidi Armbruster reminds you of those annoying people on the street who always want you to sign a petition for Greenpeace or Amnesty or PETA; but she also lets a small amount of dignity seep through the character, so that you don’t hate her. Kola Ogundiran is excellent as Monday—he captures the madness of the situation and plays it to the hilt for both comic and dramatic effect. Rounding out the cast as Ibrahima is Tinashe Kajese, who is hilarious.
While probably not the feel good hit of the season, The God Botherers is an excellent comedy of ideas, and certainly worth seeing.