The God Of Hell

A scene from Sam Shepard’s THE GOD OF HELL. Pic Katy Green-Loughrey

With a guitar lick reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s theme for Paris, Texas, this production of THE GOD OF HELL sonically signifies that you are in Sam Shepard country and you just know that this isn’t going to be a happy heifer after story for Wisconsin dairy farmers, Frank and Emma.

These two cowpokes are the last vestige of independent livestock owners in the area, their neighbours all having sold out to the giant Agricorps conglomerates.

They appear to be childless; Emma nurturing an indoor nursery of plants and Frank tending his cattle more like children than chattel.

Their opening scene consists of polishing shoes, over pouring watering cans and mundane prattle.

Frank leaves to tend the Holsteins in the barn while Emma contends with their house guest, Haynes, holed up in their basement.

Haynes is the son of an old buddy of Frank, seeking succor from something that seems to have ratcheted his static electricity quotient.

Any mention of a place called Rocky Butte sends shivers of shock waves through his system, like a main circuit cable plugged to his penis. It’s the muscle memory of torture and it torments him terribly.

Enter Welch, ostensibly a bunting salesman, a purveyor of pennants, flags and all manner of patriotic flim flam, but actually something more sinister, come to flush out the fugitive, Haynes.

Written a decade ago, THE GOD OF HELL is Sam Shepard’s response to the aftermath of September 11 – the so called war on terror, the passing of the Patriot Act, and the revelations of Rendition, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib – and the play echoes and reverberates the concerns conjured by these policies and places.

The title of the play comes from Pluto – not the planet or the puppy – and the spectre of plutonium poisoning casts a pall over the piece.

Powered by a hot as Hades script and performances from an awesome foursome – Vanessa Downing, Jake Lyall, Ben McIvor and Tony Poli – the elaborate ultra -realist set design by director Rodney Fisher tends to overwhelm the production, a behemoth in the intimate confines of the Old Fitz, turning the space into an elevated chocolate box proscenium.

THE GOD OF HELL plays the Old Fitz till September 13.