The Winged Ox Players are taking a long, hard look at the Bible's Book of Job, this month, at the Robert H. Jackson Center.
The result is both a very funny experience, and a genuine questing into why it seems that the good suffer as much or perhaps even more than the bad. The play is by master wordsmith Neil Simon, and the title is ''God's Favorite.''
The performing company was formed by the congregation of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, although the casting was open to the whole community.
The plot is almost exactly the same as in the Book of Job. A wealthy man is offered, at first, a great many temptations, and then is visited by a whole universe of plagues, but even when the people dearest to him in the world are pleading with him to put an end to his suffering and theirs by renouncing God, he remains faithful.
In this case, our Job is a fellow named Joe Benjamin. He is a self-made millionaire who owns a factory which makes high quality paper boxes. The sufferings he endures are skewed a bit for the sake of humor, but the message is identical.
Cheers to Michael Frank, whose portrayal of Joe had plenty of funny shtick, yet grew to a stunning and very involving crescendo.
Cheers also to Steven Cobb, who portrayed Sidney Lipton, a Long Island Jewish version of a messenger from on high. In fact, virtually all of Simon's writing uses a cadence and a choice of words in which the audience can only hear that Long Island Jewish tonality, which doesn't drip naturally from Western New York tongues, but once the audience gets accustomed, it all flows fine.
Donna Philippi was Joe's luxury-loving wife. His three children were Miguel Covarrubias, Cathy Covarrubias, and Adam Hughes. Marlene Mudge and Jack McCray were the family's hired servants, who remained faithful to their employer, throughout it all.
Friday's performance showed a few elements of opening night jitters. There were a few long, awkward pauses, and the pacing was too slow, until the second act, when it began to take wing.
Deacon Pierce directed with skill, moving his actors around with direction and always hitting the most important elements of the play with the greatest focus.
The set and costumes are appropriate and attractive, although the limitations of the Jackson Center's stage mean that scene changes are uncomfortably lengthy.
There are a few examples of strong language in the play. A few people will think that having fun with the Bible's narratives is wrong, but for my money, humor and disrespect are two very different things. If the message is the true one, the means of getting there are justified.
''God's Favorite'' will repeat this evening and next Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. at the Robert H. Jackson Center, in downtown Jamestown.