Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The God of Hell

The European premier of Sam Shepard’s “the God of Hell” at the Donmar Warehouse has been billed as a “zany black comedy” Then why isn’t it funny?

As a liberal American, I went into this show expecting a charged and relevant attack on the state of my government. I wanted intelligent political humor, perhaps something veiled by an actual plot. What I got instead was a mismatched rendering of an American playwright’s heavy-handed ideas with the execution of a well-meaning British company. I was certainly in a bizarre position, as I sat silently among British citizens, watching particularities of my homeland get castigated onstage; I felt like a silent spy. I was the object of their hatred, they were laughing at me and my people, feeling sorry for us and what we had done to ourselves. Of course, I can’t blame them, but the play itself fell flat.

I could have done without hearing Heartland dialects butchered by Lesley Sharp. The closest this piece comes to their intention is with Welch, who at least can vary his delivery and intention to produce a moderately creepy USA government official. It felt like none of these people had actually bothered to rehearse together. It appears that no one onstage has decided whether this is a serious piece or a farcical rendering.

I would have been fine had this play gone one way or the other. Please, Shepard, there’s not an in-between that these actors can handle right now. Whoever directed this show, I’m sure had the very best of intentions, but she probably should have had the cast reacting to one another. Just a thought. If this was to function as a parable for “Republican fascism”, then it would warrant a depiction of Middle America that mattered.

The play itself is a departure for Shepard. His family dramas usually implode from the inside as some dark history devours everyone involved. Here, we have an outside threat to contend with. This democracy is indeed a frightening concept. And Shepard does manage to install a few thought-provoking questions about the average American state of awareness. He wrote this in an attempt to influence the last elections, and certainly, there is truth in the threats of this new democracy, and the dangers posed by the conservative right. This administration, however, deserves a hard-edged exploration of truth and values, and this is simply not it.

“The God of Hell” continues at the Donmar Warehouse, London through December 3, 2005.