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Release: Immediate

Simon makes hilarious update of Job in 'God's Favorite' at Iowa Summer Rep

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Iowa Summer Rep '97 will present "God's Favorite,"

Neil Simon's comic update of the biblical book of Job, at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 10, in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Additional performances of "God's Favorite" will be at 8 p.m. July 11, 12 and 17-19.

In "God's Favorite," which premiered in 1974, Simon transplants the trials of Job to contemporary suburban Long Island, where Job becomes wealthy and respected businessman Joe Benjamin, and God's messenger sent to test his faith is a funny guy from Queens.

"God's Favorite" is much less frequently produced than the other two plays in the Iowa Summer Rep Neil Simon festival -- "Broadway Bound" and "Laughter on the 23rd Floor." Director Eric Forsythe says a reason is that the play is a challenge to produce, both technically and artistically.

"It requires a magnificent set -- and I won't say what happens to the set, but something dreadful happens to it," says Forsythe, who is also the artistic director of Iowa Summer Rep. "So it's a very difficult and expensive production to mount."

"Also it's a difficult play because it was written during a crisis in Simon's own life -- he lost his wife of 20 years. At that time he was only 40, so half of his life was spent with Joan. The play, which was written shortly after her death, sounds like it might be some sort of morbid piece, but Simon is a comic writer, and so he wrote funny material about how people deal with bad things."

Forsythe says that the questions raised for Simon about his wife's death interact with a more general self-examination that her death triggered: "He was a huge success as a writer and yet in his personal life this terrible event occurred, and he was trying to deal with both of those issues at the same time. Why does either success or loss happen? What makes life worth living? This creates a marvelous tension, which makes for a more difficult play and a fascinating play."

Although the play is a comedy, Simon does not shrink from or deflect the serious issues of the play, in Forsythe's opinion. "I think what Neil Simon is trying to do is take the difficulty of that story and face it head on, try not to soften the punch of it and yet to see what kind of comfort we can take from a perspective which allows us the possibility of a miracle," Forsythe explains.

"Is what happens at the end of the story of Job just frosting on a fictional cake or is that something that could happen because of extraordinary faith? Deep down, I think it's a piece which promotes faith as a good place to be, and for a cynical New York writer to say that is quite wonderful."

Other artistic contributors to the Iowa Summer Rep production of "God's Favorite" are set and costume designer Dan Nemteanu, lighting designer Bryon Winn and sound designer Mark Bruckner.

Tickets for "God's Favorite" are $15 ($8 for UI students, senior citizens and young people 17 and younger). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available an hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

"God's Favorite" tickets are also available at a discount of more than 20 percent as part of an Iowa Summer Rep subscription package. The other Neil Simon shows in the series are "Broadway Bound" and "Laughter on the 23rd Floor." Subscription packages are $35 ($20 for UI students, senior citizens and young people 17 and younger). Series subscriptions are available until the closing of "Broadway Bound" on July 16.

Hancher box office summer hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays. The box office will be closed July 4. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Before each evening performance, from 6:30 p.m. to curtain time, Iowa Summer Rep offers outdoor dining on the Theatre Building patio, overlooking the Iowa River. This season, in harmony with the New York Jewish milieu of Simon's plays, the Iowa Memorial Union catering service will become Bubby's Deli, featuring family-favorite recipes of IMU Chef Barry Greenberg. The dinner menu includes authentic New York deli meats, bagels and lox, and New York cheesecake.

Reservations for Bubby's Deli are not required, but on weekends reservations are recommended. Reservations may be made by calling 319-335-3105.

The University of Iowa Community Credit Union is the corporate sponsor of Iowa Summer Rep.