That’s the premise that launches comedian Kurt Weitzmann’s “In Gods We Trust.” The farcical fantasy, onstage this weekend in a staged-reading presentation in San Francisco, shifts between present-day Capitol Hill and Rome on the cusp of Emperor Constantine’s rule.
Sensing the rise of Christianity signals the twilight of the gods, Diana snares her quarry, Carl, a successful right-wing lobbyist, hoping to harness his powers of persuasion to hatch a scheme to reestablish belief in, and restore power to, the Roman pantheon.
Carl, in turn, finds himself drawn to Diana’s androgynous allure, and when in Rome, goes pagan to save her, but not without feeling conflicted that a win for populist paganism would be a loss for Christianity’s monotheistic monopoly.
He’s caught in a dilemma, described best by a power-hungry senator, who says, “It is so much easier to govern a people who believe in a monster living in the sky than to govern someone who believes in monsters living in Rome.”
Weitzmann, a veteran of 1980s stand-up comedy at The City’s infamous Holy City Zoo, was inspired by the 2007 film “Constantine’s Sword,” a documentary that details the Roman emperor’s early adoption of Christianity. He explores parallels between the militarization of Constantine’s Rome and 21st-century America, especially in Iraq (Mesopotamia) and the occupied Middle East, even as both waning empires ironically espouse adherence to a religion founded by an altruistic pacifist.
As he does in other works, such as the play “The Jesus Roast,” Weitzmann leavens heavy themes with jokes. He says he hopes people “will go beyond the cheap shots and see some deep-seated respect for the ideals of religion in general.”
He adds: “If only humankind didn’t get in the way and mess it up so horribly.”
Weitzmann, who has premiered three plays in The City, also wrote “Last Call,” an award-winning one-act film that began with a notion that it “might be funny if an ineffectual bartender was really bad at talking someone out of suicide.”
In Sunday’s staged reading, a fundraiser for a fully staged production of the show, Weitzmann plays Carl, and Will Durst is a triple threat, portraying different aspects of a world-weary father confessor: one is a Catholic priest, another tends bar (in present-day Washington, D.C., and Rome) and the third, a saturnine, over-scheduled businessman in a rumpled suit, is the almighty God.
IF YOU GO
In Gods We Trust
Where: Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $10 to $75
Contact: (415) 882-9100, www.brownpapertickets.com