The Montana Actors’ Theatre of Havre and the Billings Studio Theatre are partnering to bring “God Help Us!” – starring legendary actor Ed Asner – to Billings Oct. 4-6.
The political comedy, features Asner as God – a wise, cantankerous and wildly funny deity. He confronts two political pundits with a romantic history: Lawrence (a liberal) and Randi (a conservative). He is not at all pleased with our divisive politics or what humans have done to his Creation, and grills the pundits on the dismal state of affairs on Earth.
LA veteran Mitch Levine directs the show, which was written by Samuel Warren Joseph and Phil Proctor. The comedy speaks to audiences of all political persuasions with one essential argument: that we have to listen to each other so that we can all live – and laugh – together.
This marks the second time that Asner has teamed up with Montana Actors’ Theatre performers Jay Pyette (Lawrence) and Kate Hagen (Randi) with supporting “angel” roles by Andi Daniel and Derek Eldridge. The show ran at MAT’s theatre in Havre last October and, due to its enormous popularity, Asner and his team have agreed to return to Montana.
Pyette says working with Asner last year was both “absolutely wonderful” and nerve-wracking. “After all, Ed had been ‘in the business’ for longer than I’d been alive,” he notes. “But the minute he arrived he put everyone at ease, mainly by poking fun. He has a great sense of humor and sarcasm.”
The veteran actor also sets a high bar for his cohorts. “He’s sharp – right on top of his game,” says Pyette. “As actors, we needed to be prepared and ready, because if we weren’t, Ed would call us out on it.”
Pyette, a member of the Montana Arts Council, helped found MAT and serves as the company’s artistic director. Hagen, a Havre grade school teacher, is an accomplished costumer, and has performed in MAT productions for the past five years.
Last year’s performance of “God Help Us!” in Havre was only the fourth time that show had been produced, and followed runs in Los Angeles, Chicago and Coeur d’Alene.
According to Pyette, “The question we always get is ‘how did THAT happen?’”
Director Levine had been in every state in the union except Montana and wanted to come here. When Liza Asner, the actor’s daughter and manager, googled Montana and Theatres, Montana Actors’ Theatre popped up first. She reached out to Pyette, “we started chatting, and the rest fell into place.”
Since then, the show has toured across the country. “But I think we established a real connection with them here and when we reached out this time to ask them back, they readily agreed.”
Asner started acting in credited roles in the 1950s but rose to stardom with his role as the irritable but warm-hearted and lovable news editor in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and followed with the title role in the spinoff, “Lou Grant,” which earned him five Emmys and three Golden Globe Awards. Asner received two more Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for the mini-series “Rich Man, Poor Man” and “Roots.” He starred as Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s 2009 box-office hit, the Oscar-winning Best Picture “Up!,” and as Santa in the movie version of “Elf.”
He has been nominated for 20 Emmy awards, and won eight; he also served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1981 to 1985. As Pyette says, “The guy is an A-List actor.”
Tickets are available through the Billings Studio Theatre’s website (www.billingsstudiotheatre.com) or by phone, 406-248-1141.