During more than two decades in Wichita theater, Kyle Vespestad has thrived on being the funny supporting actor, the kind who makes his entrances, delivers some choice zingers and exits.
But in his newest role at Roxy’s Downtown, Vespestad takes on a mighty role – playing the Almighty.
Vespestad has the title role in “An Act of God,” a comedy in which he plays the Lord, addressing the audience for about 90 minutes.
“It’s very intimidating. I’ve never had something this large that I’ve done,” Vespestad said. “It’s a little scary, because it’s me talking for a long amount of time in front of this many people.”
“An Act of God” continues Thursdays through Saturdays until June 24.
“An Act of God” premiered on Broadway in 2015 with “The Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons as the Lord and returned the next year with “Will & Grace” co-star Sean Hayes as the Almighty. The script is written by David Javerbaum, a 13-time Emmy winner for “The Daily Show.”
“He knows his Bible,” said David Stone, who is directing Vespestad as well as playing the archangel Gabriel, alongside Monte Wheeler as the archangel Michael.
Stone said he suggested “An Act of God” to Roxy’s producer John Hammer last year and put in a pitch to direct, adding that Vespestad would be perfect for the role.
“It would take a certain amount of chutzpah to do it here, because God comes down for one night to Wichita in the form of Kyle to deliver 10 new commandments,” Stone said. “I know we live in a town that’s pretty happy with the original 10.”
Vespestad saw a production of “An Act of God” in January in Denver, not knowing he was being considered for the role.
“The audience was going crazy. It was just a constant laugh track,” he said. “After I saw it, I thought it was something I wanted to take on at some point.”
The script, Vespestad and Stone agree, walks the fine line between satisfying and having fun with those who believe in a higher power.
“In the script, the Bible is the be-all, end-all. But there are some liberties,” Vespestad said. “I think people who believe will find it funny. You take any group of people, and whenever you make fun of them, they’re usually the ones who find it the funniest.”
“It’s a very funny play, and I think it deals with issues that all of us have thought about (regarding) religion or faith,” Stone said. “We’ve never had it settled in our heads, or just determined that this is the way it is.”
Javerbaum’s script keeps a balance of biblical text and modern vernacular, Stone said.
“The language is kind of godly – ‘thines’ and ‘thous’ and ‘shalls.’ He can make stuff up, but he’s got to speak biblicaly,” Stone said. “It’s very, very King James-y.”
Although Stone and Wheeler play the angelic “wing men” to God, including taking questions from the audience, Vespestad has had to memorize more than 30 pages of monologue to prepare for the role.
“I’m definitely scared at times. My two archangels will help me at times if I get stuck,” Vespestad said.
In one scene, God assures sports fans – whether they be for Kansas colleges or Kansas City sports teams – that he does nothing to help their team win or the opposing team lose. The script, Stone said, leaves openings for local references.
“He chastises the human race for putting too much pressure for God to do stuff they should be doing and wasting his time,” Stone said.
Although the humor is consistent, Vespestad said, there are a few dark moments.
“There is seriousness. There is a part of the show that’s pretty serious when he talks about Jesus, his own son,” he said.
An Iowa native, Vespestad moved to Wichita in 1995, first working for Roxy’s predecessor the Cabaret Old Town, adding the Crown Uptown Theatre and Mosley Street Melodrama along the way, and constantly working as a director and in the office of Wichita Children’s Theatre.
Playing God, he said, is his most challenging role yet.
“This is something bigger than me,” Vespestad said.
‘An Act of God’
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through June 24
Where: Roxy’s Downtown, 412 1/2 E. Douglas
Tickets: $30, $27 and $20; available by calling 316-265-4400.
More info: www.roxysdowntown.com