Written in the lead up to the 2004 US presidential election, Sam Shepard’s uncompromising black comedy The God of Hell is a funny and scathing indictment of the invasion upon home-grown values by a new kind of government – one typified by a fear-based, toxic patriotism.
The rustic setting of The God of Hell is classic Shepard – an isolated Wisconsin farmhouse (one of the few remaining in a region now taken over by agribusiness). Frank kneads his work-boots with oil while obsessing over his prize heifers. His wife, Emma, is happily busy burning bacon in the kitchen and overwatering her indoor plants.
Nothing has happened for years, in fact, nothing ever happens. And that’s just the way Frank and Emma like it. But their peace is shattered by Graig Haynes, a scientist from a suspicious-sounding plutonium production facility, who seeks refuge in the farmhouse.
While he hides in Frank and Emma’s basement, an eerily well-informed, supposed salesman named Welch turns up in hot pursuit. What follows is a process of cruel intimidation in which Welch not only gets his man but terrorises the innocent mid-Westerners and their perfect idyll.
In Shepard’s own words, The God of Hell is “a dark farce”; the farcical elements within the play are combined with an unnerving possible truth. Much of the play’s brilliance comes from Shepard’s ability to seamlessly weave together the sinister and the absurd, at times putting both on stage simultaneously.
It is this clever and keen writing that makes The God of Hell resonate a decade after its premier in 2004. The play also retains its thematic relevance not only for America but the world over; a cautionary tale about the dangerous trends we see in the ruling of our world – governments utilising fear, deception and moral compromise as tools to build trust. But a trust built upon such shaky foundations can surely only lead to collapse.
Presented by MopHead Productions in association with Sydney Independent Theatre Company, The God of Hell will be directed by Australian theatre luminary, Rodney Fisher. Having produced work in numerous countries over the last 4 decades, Fisher is recipient of many accolades, notably an Order of Australia (AM) for services to directing and writing, and a Sydney Theatre Critics Circle Award for his significant contribution to the theatre.
Director / Designer: Rodney Fisher Featuring: Vanessa Downing, Jake Lyall, Ben McIvor, Tony Poli Lighting Designer: Nick Schlieper Sound Designer: Max Lyandvert Producer: Jake Lyall
The God of Hell
Old Fitzroy Theatre, 129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Season: 26 August – 13 September 2014
For more information, visit: www.sitco.net.au for details.
Image: courtesy of Mophead Productions