Duke Players
Brody Theater, Duke Campus
Through Aug. 31

Woody Allen’s having one of his biggest critical and popular cinematic successes in years with his new film Blue Jasmine, but it’s just as heartening to see that God, his 1975 play, can still pull in college students for a packed house at a midnight production.

The Duke Players’ opening weekend show started at the stroke of 12 and still managed to fill every seat (and the bottom aisles) with students willing to eschew their first nights of campus drinking and socializing to attend an almost-40-year-old absurdist existential comedy about the nature of free will. It’s almost enough to restore your faith in humanity, though this play, for all its laughs, won’t exactly encourage your faith in the Almighty.

God makes its intentions known almost immediately, as a debate between Greek playwright Hepatitis (Sam Caywood) and actor Diabetes (Nick Prey) as to how to end a tragic story quickly shatters the fourth wall. Things soon get screwy. The narrative draws in audience members, a fellow Greek (Cynthia Wang) who’s (literally) invented the “Deus Ex Machina” ending, a play within the play, characters from other plays, a roast beef sandwich and “Allen” himself, who’s phoned by the characters to help sort out this mess.

Like Pirandello by way of Monty Python, God is a short-but-sweet riff on the pretensions of theater and narrative, with the Duke Players’ version updating many of Allen’s New York references to local ones (nods are made to UNC, the Herald-Sun and this fine publication).

Along with the lead “Greeks,” the standouts include Erin Tuckman as a nice Jewish girl who gets deeply involved (and occasionally bored) with the play’s story and Sam Kedebe as a more modern writer who gives the plot his own twists. The play is short (under an hour), and as we’ve indicated, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. But it’s a nice introduction to the elastic nature of theater and narrative for incoming Duke students, and perhaps a bit of a mind-blower for young people who might only know Allen for the darker tale of Blue Jasmine.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Guiding lies.”