A review of Stone Soup Theatre’s production of “God of Hell,” a 90-minute howl of protest against post-9/11 federal policies.
“God of Hell” is that rare duck: a political satire by Sam Shepard.
Introduced in 2004, and recently revived by Stone Soup Theatre, Shepard’s 90-minute fable was not the kind of existential examination of self and family (“Buried Child,” “True West”) he’s best known for.
This was Shepard’s howl of protest and call to arms over the Bush administration’s policies of domestic surveillance and torture in the aftermath of 9/11.
‘God of Hell’
At Stone Soup Theatre. Closed. (The last two weeks of the run were canceled on Thursday.)
Shepard feared the country “may be an inch away from totalitarianism.” In time for the next presidential election (which Bush won handily), he sketched out a wake-up-and-smell-the-fascism one-act about a plain old dairy-farming couple in the U.S. heartland, victimized by so-called patriotism.
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With a libertarian tinge, the play delivers an anti-Republican message the size of skywriting. It’s weak agitprop. But it dips into Shepard’s talent for domestic menace via the absurdist influences of Beckett and Pinter.
Frank and Emma’s rural Wisconsin routine is derailed after an old friend fleeing Rocky Butte (not the city park in Portland, Ore., but a leaky nuclear facility elsewhere) takes shelter in their basement.
When an unidentified government agent busts in on Emma, plying her with patriotic doodads and enigmatic inquiries, she gets mighty suspicious. Soon her farm is in jeopardy, and her naive hubby and guest are in for some excruciating “reprogramming.”
“God of Hell” blasts nuclear contamination, Abu Ghraib-style torture and crypto-tyranny. Forget subtlety: The creepy stranger (well-played by Gianni Truzzi) proclaims he and his masters “are in absolute command” of the country, and “can do whatever we want.”
At half the length, this might have been a punchier, more sinister farce. But a game cast — also made up of Keith Dahlgren, Edwin Scheibner and director Joanna Goff Sunde (subbing for an ailing Maureen Miko) — could not overcome the fact that this is very minor Shepard.