Review: A God In Need of Help (Tarragon Theatre)

The Protestant Reformation and a famous painting set the scene for a mystery in A God in Need of Help at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre

The Protestant Reformation was a schism in Western Christianity in the sixteenth century which divided the Holy Roman Empire into two religious factions, the Roman Catholics and the Protestants. Some Protestants were iconoclasts, who believed that any graven images of God (i.e. something painted or sculpted) should be destroyed.

The sixteenth century. The Protestant Reformation. Roman Catholics, Protestants, iconoclasm, and the blessed Mary. Woven together into a single production, you may not expect these subjects to form a detective-style mystery. Yet that’s exactly what you get in A God In Need of Help, and the result is, for the most part, enjoyable theatre.

A God In Need of Help takes place in 1606, shortly after the Protestant Reformation. At the behest of the Holy Roman Emperor, Venice’s four strongest men are charged with transporting a holy painting – Albrecht Dürer’s The Brotherhood of the Rosary – across the Alps to Prague. They are attacked by Protestant zealots, and their escape is attributed to a miracle.

The four men (played by Alden Adair, Daniel Kash, Tony Nappo and Jonathan Seinen) and their captain (Dmitry Chepovetsky) are summoned to an inquiry, led by the magistrate of Venice (John Cleland) and the cardinal archbishop of Milan (Greg Ellwand), to determine whether something divine did indeed occur. Each man then tells his side of the story.

The set is minimal, but very effective. There is an alleyway jutting out into the audience, where the Archbishop spends a large amount of his time. He, like us, is the audience for each man’s story, a touch I rather liked.

A very large version of Dürer’s The Brotherhood of the Rosary sits on the upstage wall for the duration of the show. This painting has a detachable frame that is moved around to help set the scene: sometimes to show the transportation of the painting across the Alps, other times to frame each man’s recounting of events. The detailed costumes further accent the set – I do love a show with period costumes – and due to the nature of the show we are very close to the action and get to see them in their full glory.

The minimal set and excellent costumes all serve to highlight the amazing performances that are in A God In Need of Help. We get to know a lot about each man as he recounts his version of events, and each of them offer different details about the others. The characters are slowly revealed to us through their stories, much like a film noir series of interviews and interrogations, and it’s fascinating to watch.

Unfortunately, the film noir feel only lasts so long. I was really interested in the mystery in A God In Need of Help and was following the story completely until about halfway through the second act. It then started to go in directions that confused me. The ultimate conclusion was certainly not what I was expecting, and to be honest it felt a tad too “off the rails”. A more grounded conclusion supported by the previous evidence would have been more satisfying.

Nevertheless, A God in Need of Help is worth seeing for the performances and the design, and the story is still quite interesting to watch unfold. As for the conclusion… well, you can see for yourselves.


  • A God in Need of Help is playing from April 23 to May 25, 2014 at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave)
  • Shows run Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and Saturday 2:30pm matinees on April 26, May 3, and May 10
  • Tickets $21 – $53, (including discounts for students, seniors and groups) and a PWYC on April 16 at 8pm
  • $13 Rush Tickets at the door Fridays (on sale at 6pm) & Sundays (on sale at 1pm) starting April 25
  • Tickets are available in person at the venue box office, by phone at 416-531-1827 or online at

Photo of Ben Irvine, Daniel Kash, Tony Nappo, Jonathan Seinen, Dmitry Chepovetsky, Alden Adair by Cylla von Tiedemann