Monday, March 20, 2023
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Author Peter Filichia explains how his play God Shows Up came into being - Part Two

So I wrote a one-man show called BACK FROM THE STARS, in which God says he’s been traveling lo these millennia, and now he’s arrived on earth. I gave it to Eric who said, ‘It doesn’t have enough conflict.’

Frankly, I didn’t think it did, either. God needed someone with whom to joust. And given that I think televangelists may well be phonies, I decided to have God battle one on the “holy man’s” talk show.

But that would double the budget on actors. Now (to use a phrase I’ve already gone to twice) at this point, the average producer would have said “No, a one-man shows costs enough,” but Eric said “Go ahead.”

By now, I was calling the play BACK FROM SERENDIPITY – for I envisioned that God hadn’t just been traveling, but had at the outset created two planets: the earth and Serendipity.

I’d checked to see what, according to Google, were the most beautiful words in the English language, and Serendipity was on the list. I wanted a beautiful word for a beautiful world. God had stayed there so long because the people there were so nice. But then he felt he had to come to earth, the way parents of two or more children feel they must give each kid equal time.

I brought the new script to The Playroom, the theater where Eric develops plays, and we’d read it: he’d play God and I’d play the evangelist.

Just as we were about to start, Dan Lauria – the actor from THE WONDER YEARS and the Broadway productions of LOMBARDI and A CHRISTMAS STORY – happened to saunter by. He knows us both, so we started chatting.

Now there’s one thing I know about Dan: he loves new plays. If we had been about to read DEATH OF A SALESMAN he wouldn’t have been interested even if he’d never seen DEATH OF A SALESMAN -- because it’s an old play. But give Dan the chance to see any new play, and he’s there.

He stayed for the whole 90 minutes, liked what we had, but suggested that we not limit God as a man. “Why not make God female, too?” he asked.

Here we go again with “Now at this point, the average producer would have said.” But Eric thought it was a good idea and liked what I came up with even though we had tripled the acting budget since the project began.

And once I rewrote with that in mind, more credit where it’s due, Eric said that although this was hardly the play he’d envisioned from Day One, he liked it more than his original conception.

“But,” he said, “considering that God is really the main event here, the play should have God in the title. How about GOD RETURNS?”

“No” I said, “because the play states that God has never been here before. GOD SHOWS UP would be more accurate.”

True to form, Eric agreed (delightedly, in fact). The title also has a double meaning, because God shows up the televangelist, revealing him for who he really is.

Now it’s not just that the televangelist is a charlatan; that’s too trite and too obvious. I came up with something that many will undoubtedly find unbelievable, but the play is dealing with an unbelievable situation from the outset, isn’t it?

Part of my motivation was to say that the God I envision is a VERY nice guy. He’s not judgmental and in fact admires the human race. As he says, “You people have done wonders with the place. All these cities you’ve built?! I couldn’t even build a village. Oh, I’ll take credit for a few things: From the mountains … to the prairies … to the oceans. But you’re the ones who’ve made so much more of it! I could only make caves; you figured out how to build houses, apartment buildings, hotels, mansions, and skyscrapers. Me? When it comes to construction, I’m all thumbs. Not at all handy. And your indoor plumbing? Wow! You know how you people call the wilderness ‘God’s country’? Well, you’re right. God’s country was what I gave you because it’s all I could manage to give you. But ‘People’s Country’ beats ‘God’s country’ any day.”

And frankly, I do believe I have as much right as Leviticus and all those other writers of the Bible to say what I believe God is. They had no more first-hand knowledge than I do. Maybe they were just megalomaniacs who wanted to feel powerful by telling people what to do under the guise of its coming from God. Who knows? Maybe Joshua got in the Bible because he was a friend of the editor. Maybe Joshua gave him a nice cow after the editor’s cow had dropped dead, so the editor said ‘Tell me, Josh: What can I do for you?’ Well, he never expected that Joshua would say ‘Well, you know, I’ve always toyed with the idea of being a writer and I know you have this book coming out.’ But the editor needed the cow’s milk for his newborn kid, so what was he going to do?

Joshua wrote something, and in it went.

With GOD SHOWS UP up and running, I now have a different problem. Some of the lines I wrote for THE WHOLE WORLD wound up in GOD SHOWS UP. And now THE WHOLE WORLD has been selected as one of the plays for this year’s Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska. I’m going to have to prune those lines from the script. But what a happy conundrum to have!