By: Ronnie Ruff God Of Hell – Didactic Theatre
Adrienne Nelson and Colby Codding, photograph taken by Elish Healy
Sam Sheppard’s latest play is a sarcastic look at the nationalistic* themes promoted by the current administration or to quote the playwright “a takeoff on Republican fascism.” A comedy in three scenes, the play uses more red, white and blue than the Republican National Convention. Ceramic republican elephants, vinyl banners, flags, patriotic neck ties, all with the stars and stripes and all being waved about with enthusiastic abandon.
Frank and Emma live in dairy land, Wisconsin that is, where Frank tends to his cows with a love only equaled by his feelings for Emma or maybe not, now that I think about it. The cows are number one on Frank’s priority list. The couple have a visitor as the play unfolds, and old friend of Frank’s by the name of Haynes is hiding out in the basement after a little accident at his job that may or may not be a plutonium spill. “Do you know what plutonium is named after, Frank?” asks Haynes, who produces vicious blue electric sparks when touched. “No-what?” answers the clueless dairy farmer. “Pluto-the god of Hell,” Haynes says. “Oh,” says Frank, “I thought he was a cartoon.” Now we all know the Feds are not going to let poor Haynes get away so easily — they send a schizoid agent posing as a cookie salesman to the farm to bring him back into the fold. Peddling red, white and blue iced cookies, our man Welch, part salesman, part flag waving super agent, is there to provide containment for this uncomfortable situation that has been deemed problematic by the government. Welch has his way with everyone’s mind like bird the flu in a hen house. When Emma asks: “What does that mean, ‘our government’?” and Frank answers “That means he knows more than us — he’s smarter than us — he knows the Big Picture, Emma — he’s got a plan” we understand that this is great stuff.
There are some pretty crafty performances in this show — Christopher Carroll struggles to control his spark shooting arm in a way that evokes memories of Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove. Adrienne Nelson is a ticking time bomb, watering the plants as if they were in the Sahara. Her nervous energy is an indication of the results of Welch’s threatening presence. Matt Howe as Welsh is a wide eyed bureaucratic lunatic who is the energy source the production feeds from. His comical stage presence belies more sinister undercurrents. Colby Codding is able to secure his character’s dairy farm warrior persona without slipping into something that seems overdone.
The dairy farm kitchen and living room are a vision of Midwest Americana — the functional design added to an already pleasing production by H Lee Gable that captures Sheppard’s vision perfectly. Mr. Gable keeps the pace of the acting brisk and the jabs fast.
Certainly not a “feel good” comedy this is a show that has you snickering uneasily, wondering if we will all be crowing a year from now. It is important to point out Sheppard does not want us to feel good about what we are seeing — he wants a knot in the stomach and your shoulders to feel tense. This is theatre that provokes a response and in doing so it is Sheppard’s hope that our eyes open to what is going on in America. Of course this is all depends on your political views but there are laughs available for all. Didactic’s God Of Hell is a scary view of America that will have you grinning until you are about half way home — it is not long after you understand America is not a very funny place right now.
photo credit – Elish Healy
* The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.