Photo by Tony Nelson
Sam Shepard's THE GOD OF HELL, presented in Oct./Nov. 2005
Let the Mighty Eagle Soar
Shepherd's political drama conjures a cheesehead dystopia
by Quinton Skinner, City Pages
"....Director Wendy Knox seems to purposely steer the material away from any conventional safety zone. Much of the language in the early going is almost transparently bland, but almost from the beginning this production hits a tone of anti-naturalism, with each performer seeming to work within his own bubble of strangeness rather than meshing as a unit. Richey in particular goes right over the top from the get-go, with waves of creepy, condescending malice, and Burke veers wide-eyed between moods, and at times lends the work a welcome comic touch.
"In the second half of this single-act show, things move from the domestic sphere to realms of torture and political domination (it's not that big a shift, come to think of it). Here is where Knox's approach starts to pay off, when Shepard's surrealism is cranked up several notches. Welch turns out to be not only a sick sadist, but one with a government clearance, and he's tied into a locus of power that seeks to do away with such inconveniences as human rights and representative democracy.
"...The God of Hell imparts high weirdness and sounds an alarm at the expense of conventional dramatic payoff. Knox and her cast essentially go him one further, giving us a world so deeply off-kilter that only cruelty and power can prevail. What's left to debate is how much it resembles the one in which we find ourselves today."
THE RAKE: Secrets of the City
"Here's a marriage made in heaven: The very imaginative yet relentlessly unpretentious Frank Theatre company produces a new farce by Sam Shepard. Written on the eve of the 2004 election, the play has been described by Shepard as "a takeoff on Republican fascism." This story interrupts the quiet lives of two Wisconsin dairy farmers, holdouts in a land swept by agribusiness, who start getting hounded by government operatives and the patriotism police. We can't think of anyone better than Frank to satirize overzealous flag-wavers and Wisconsin's barely blue countryside. "
This 'God' a raging indictment of current affairs
BY DOMINIC P. PAPATOLA, Pioneer Press Theater Critic
"Sometimes, playwrights use metaphor and allegory to get their point across. And sometimes, they just say "Screw it" and write straightforward and from the gut.
"Sam Shepard has taken both tacks in his career and has been rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize and a reputation as one of America's better living playwrights. With "The God of Hell," currently being staged by Frank Theatre, Shepard opens a vein and allows his anger at the current political situation to bleed all over the stage...
"Director Wendy Knox giddily embraces Shepard's stick-it-to-the-powers-that-be attitude, augmenting the script with, among other touches, audio of former attorney general John Ashcroft singing a jingoistic ditty, "Let the Eagle Soar." Steven Rohde's set design is a realistically rendered interior of a farm home, but Knox has opted to steer her four-person cast in the direction of hyper-reality.
"Virginia Burke is twitchy and feisty as the stir-crazy Emma, while Gary Keast seems to have an almost otherworldly sense of obliviousness as her husband. It's hard to imagine Welch being any more whacked-out than Shepard has written him, but Grant Richey comes close, in a captivatingly sleazy performance. Haynes is probably the closest thing to a sane character the script offers, and Ansa Akyea gives him admirable hues of intelligence, panic and, finally, terrifying submission.
"There's not a scintilla of subtlety in this script, and by giving themselves over to its excesses, Knox and her actors give the audience a wink and an opportunity to become complicit in the happenings on stage.
"It's a smart choice. Even liberals are going to come out of "The God of Hell" feeling hectored. But Frank at least makes the agitprop entertaining."
The God of Hell by Sam Shepard
THE EXONERATED by Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen
Pillowman by Martin McDonagh
PUNTILA AND HIS HIRED MAN MATTI
VINEGAR TOM by Caryl Churchill
BY THE BOG OF CATS by Marina Carr