Review: “The God of Hell”

With the lifting of most restrictions on in-door gatherings, the curtain continues to slowly rise on live, in-person theatre in the North Bay. Many companies have made their season announcements and plan to re-open their houses to audiences with productions that will be opening from mid-August to early September.

The Cloverdale Performing Arts Center gets an early jump on the season with Sam Shepard’s The God of Hell. Originally planned as a streaming production, the show now runs live, onstage Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons through August 1.

Capacity at the 99-seat theatre will be limited to 50%, groups will be safely spaced apart, and masks must be worn while moving around the theatre but may be removed while seated for the 90-minute show, which is what every one of the 30-plus opening-night attendees – except me – did.

Playwright Shepard, whose better-known works include True West, Buried Child, and Fool for Love, wrote this play in 2004 in reaction to the events of 9/11 and the then-impending Presidential election. Its focus on ultra-patriotism makes connections to our current political environment an easy reach.

Jonathan Graham, Christopher Johnstson

Wisconsin dairy farmers Frank (Christopher Johnston) and Emma (Elizabeth Henry) find their quiet, pastoral lives upended with the arrival of a mysterious man in black named Welch (Jonathan Graham) whose briefcase is stuffed with American flags and red, white, and blue cookies. He takes particular interest in the number of rooms in the farmhouse and has an almost-obsessive curiosity about the basement.

Shepard wrote this farce in a hurry and it shows. Director Athena Gundlach brings a light touch to the occassionally-heavy-handed material, and things don’t get much heavier in a comedy than being reminded of the Abu Ghraib atrocities.

The cast of four is solid and obviously relished the opportunity to be back on stage in front of an audience – almost as much as the audience relished the opportunity to be back in a theater.

Welcome back, everyone, but please, think about keeping the masks on.       

‘The God of Hell’ runs through August 1 at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, 209 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale. Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $12 -$25. 707.894.2219. Recommended for ages 18+. There are strobe effects and pyrotechics. cloverdaleperformingarts.com

This review was originally published in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.

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