According to playwright George Bernard Shaw, every good drama needs conflict. “God Help Us," which comes to Lindenhurst's Manes Studio Theatre this weekend, demonstrates it may make for even better comedy.
The show stars Ed Asner, a veteran of both genres, most notably as the crabby, wisecracking Lou Grant in the classic sitcom “Mary Tyler Moore” and in the successful spinoff titled after the fictional news director. Asner admits he favors comedy. “With drama, you have to wait for the reviews to come out to know how you’re doing,” says the seven-time Emmy award winner, the most of any male actor. “With comedy, there is instant gratification.”
Playing the Almighty, the prolific actor with “screen and stage credits seemingly stretching back to Genesis,” as one critic defined his career, confirms he is still intent — at 89 — on getting laughs. And that he does, while trying to close the gap between the politically divided, once romantically involved cable news pundits Randi and Larry.
“God” referees their debate, touching on the inexhaustible controversies of the moment and looking back at how it all began. “Nowadays, there are ultimate facts — facts that fly in the face of other facts. The wish is for people to see only one side,” notes Asner. “Common ground has been lost.”
The acerbic God created by writers Samuel Warren Joseph and Phil Proctor holds the opposing journalists to high standards, not unlike Asner’s Mr. Grant, “a gruff barking type,” as the actor once described him, with “enough holes in him, a la Swiss cheese, that you can see that his bark doesn’t mean a damn thing.”
While Asner may be accustomed to the persona, so to speak, of the touring show’s leading role, he has to adapt to new castmates at each venue, which selects from its respective pool of performers to portray the right- and left-leaning ex-lovers. In the sold-out Lindenhurst run, he shares the stage with local actors Carolyn Popadin, Angelo DiBiase, Eric Clavell and Rosemary Kurtz. Asner’s daughter, Liza, is the show’s producer.
The 90-minute play does not break for intermission, in a sense highlighting the longevity of Ed Asner as an authoritative presence in our lives. The actor says he fully embraces the production’s message — that we need to listen to each other and, yes, laugh together, too. “I’m just trying to instill a little reason on the part of everyone,” he says.
WHAT “God Help Us”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Manes Studio Theatre, 141 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst
INFO $35 (sold out); 631-226-8400, studiotheatreli.com
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WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Eastline Theatre, 2123 Wantagh Ave., Wantagh