The very good news is that God — neither He nor She nor It nor They — is mentioned in Samuel D. Hunter’s riveting new 90-minute two-hander, “A Case for the Existence of God,” which opened Monday at Off Broadway’s Signature Theatre.
The other very good news is that after a few minutes of chatter between the two men on stage it’s clear that Hunter knows how to write dialogue. It sounds natural, but it’s not. It is heightened and stylized in a way that holds our attention by its slight but constant shifts in tone and rhythm.
Beyond that title, Hunter has set up the most mundane of situations. A man (Will Brill) looking to buy land upon which to build a home sits in the cubicle of a loan broker (Kyle Beltran).
That cubicle, designed by Arnulfo Maldonado, rests on what appears to be an empty stage. Late in the play, Tyler Micoleau’s lighting exposes a far greater space upon which Hunter, the two actors and director David Cromer deliver a stunning conclusion to the drama.
As for the play’s title, it presumably has something to do with our constant search for significance and order in life, and how we find it only for brief moments. Or if we find it, we might not know it. That’s what happens to the loan broker, who is attempting to adopt an infant daughter who came to him through foster care. The man looking for a loan is also experiencing problems with his infant daughter. Recently divorced, he fears losing custody due to a variety of factors.
Cromer makes an unusual directorial choice in the play’s first half. He doesn’t use Micoleau’s lighting design to signal lapses in time. Rather, the many scene changes are suggested by the actors’ body language to create a far more surreal landscape of their developing relationship.
The two men have only a few things in common: their age, the small Idaho town of their upbringing and some of their daughter problems. Otherwise, they could not be more different. Like any two-hander, Hunter’s play demands great performances — which Beltran and Brill deliver. Not not only do they not leave that cubicle for most of the play, they don’t leave their respective chairs. It’s not an obvious voyeur’s dream to eavesdrop on this office-space drama, but Beltran and Brill turn it into one.
This review is purposefully sparse on specifics regarding what actually happens in Hunter’s play. That’s because the sense of discovery that this production evokes is one of its major pleasures. Discover them for yourself. “A Case for the Existence of God” is a world premiere, and there hasn’t been a better one for a play this theater season in New York City.