“The God of Hell” by Sam Shepard presented by Stone Soup Downstage Theatre

Raise your flag, bake and decorate flag cookies, display flags in your home! This is America, and it’s time to show your patriotism! “The God of Hell” begins when a mysterious purveyor of American jingoism stops by Frank and Emma’s Wisconsin heifer farm. These good, unpretentious, hardworking Americans are confused by his presence, even more so when they realize he’s working for the government.

Playwright Sam Shepard knows that democracy is a fragile thing, and he’s worried about our democracy. This play was written shortly after 9/11 when paranoia was rampant and government interventions began to erode basic freedoms. It’s his warning. Be vigilant, you Americans; there are forces in government that don’t have your best interests in mind.

The message here is an important one. It is the duty of every citizen in a democracy to be aware and, when necessary, take action to protect their freedoms. In this production that message comes across powerfully. What doesn’t come across is Shepard’s humor. The play was written to be farce with a message. Somehow the farce part got lost in Director Joanna Goff Sunde’s production.

The actors deserve praise. Gianni Truzzi as Welch, the flag-waving government agent, powerfully captures both the sinister and preposterous nature of his character. Maureen Miko and Edwin Scheibner as Emma and Frank, the rural Wisconsin couple subjected to the harassment of the government, epitomize the stereotypical simple but honest farmer and his wife. And Keith Dahlgren, an old friend who is caught up in nasty government business, is the personification of victimhood.

The decision to play this without capitalizing on Shepard’s humor reduced the impact of this thought provoking reminder that democracies are weakened when the average citizen is ill informed or doesn’t pay attention

Through March 14, at Stone Soup Downstage, 4029 Stone Way N., Seattle, (800 383-3006 or stonesouptheatre.org).

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