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Divine bet is the subject of MAT comedy


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Imagine the life of someone who is so lucky, so privileged, and such a good person that the only feasible explanation for his good fortune is that he has an angel watching over him.

Scratch that.

Imagine the same life of that lucky, privileged and wholesome one, but the angel, rather than being a protector, is a bearer of incredible misfortune.

"God's Favorite" is a comedy about the lucky man's life turned into hell.

Written by Neil Simon, the Montana Actors' Theatre youth division will perform "God's Favorite" Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m in the Montana State University-Northern Theatre.

Joe Benjamin, portrayed by Havre High School senior Philip Schatzka, is the main character, and a man who seems to have it all.

"He's rich, he's got everything. A wife, two kids...," explained Donald Mayer, the director.

One day, a messenger from God named Sydney Lipton pays Benjamin a visit. The main comedic source of the play, Lipton isn't what comes to mind when the words "messenger of God" are used; she is, as Mayer and his assistants call her, a huge dork.

"She's kind of a nerd, but she's got a lot of attitude," Mayer said.

Mikyla Veis, who plays Lipton, echoed their sentiment.

"She is the weirdest person I've ever had to portray," she said, which is quite a statement considering she played a singing and crying turtle in last year's "The Wind and the Willows" and a hard-of-hearing gossiping grandma in the spring production of "The Foreigner."

The trouble starts when, upon their first meeting, Lipton tells Benjamin that he is in the middle of a bet between God and Satan.

The bet: whether or not Satan can get Benjamin, who is extremely religious, to renounce God. The terms: bragging rights of the netherworld.

God takes Satan up on his bet, saying that his favorite person on Earth, Joe Benjamin, would never renounce him. He tells Satan that he can do his worst, but Benjamin would keep his faith.

Being God's favorite is apparently a lot harder than it sounds.

Benjamin endures almost every conceivable misfortune. Financial pitfalls, abuse from his family, and some extremely uncomfortable physical ailments fill his life, and his faith is stretched to the limit.

It may not sound very comedic, but rest assured, Benjamin's pain is all in the name of fun.

"God's Favorite" marks Mayer's directorial debut. He has acted with MAT in other plays, but thinks that his time spent in the director's chair has changed his view of the acting troupe.

"It's opened up my entire world of what MAT does and how it works," he said.

Mayer's assistants, Samantha Pollington and Tylyn Carmean, have directed before with last year's production of "The Bald Soprano" on the Havre High School stage. Each has acted since before high school, and both now attend college for theater.

Besides the comedic value, Pollington thinks people will enjoy the play for another reason.

"Everyone has times where we feel as if we are the victim of God and everyone else," she said. "(The play) places audience members at the same level of Joe, and forces us to laugh at life at the hardest of times."

All three directors think it is important for the Hi-Line community to come out and support the arts, specifically MAT youth.

"If you don't support the arts and the youth now, it will die," Pollington said.

Another Neil Simon play, "London Suite," was performed by the MAT troupe in the past, which Mayer said was well received by the Havre audience. Based on this, along with the fact that Simon wrote the fan favorite "The Odd Couple," Mayer expects a good time will be had by all those who come out.

"God's Favorite" is the third play in as many years to be put on during the summer by MAT youth. Past performances include "Ten Little Indians" and last year's "Trojan Women."

Tickets are only available at the door. The cost is $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors.


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