The God Of Hell

Review by Willard Manus

Sam Shepard's political satire, GOD OF HELL, had its Off-Broadway world premiere two years ago. Now, in a revival at the Geffen Playhouse, the play has been directed by Jason (Seinfeld) Alexander (in a first-time stage effort) and stars veteran troupers Curtis Armstrong, Bryan Cranston, Bill Fagerbakke and Sarah Knowlton. Shepard's attack on the current state of affairs in neo-conservative America is head-on, unsubtle and not terribly funny, but it somehow manages to hold one's interest and say some chilling things about the threat of creeping fascism today.

Set in a Wisconsin farmhouse belonging to Emma and Frank (Knowlton and Fagerbakke, respectively), typical Middle Americans living an isolated, banal, apolitical life, GOD OF HELL's central conflict is triggered when Welch (the dynamic Cranston) shows up. The slick, sinister, flag-waving national-security agent is in pursuit of Haynes (Armstrong), a geeky scientist on the lam from his job of making radioactive weapons for the military/industrial complex. Saturated with plutonium himself (Pluto, the god of war), Haynes gives off electricity every time he touches metal.

Welch sees him as a traitor and treats him accordingly, torturing him in Abu Ghraib fashion before finally returning him to his Big Brother-like masters. Caught in between the two combatants are Frank and Emma, who must pay a price for their indiffernece toward the awful things happening in the USA, the attack on the country's basic democratic principles by super-patriots.

Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave.