Synopsis: Sam Shepard’s funny, frightening and relevant comedy is a scathing indictment of the invasion of old-time America by a cruel new America. The quiet life on a Wisconsin dairy farm is disrupted by the unexpected visit of a scientist on the run from a mysterious secret project; and by the intrusion of a government bureaucrat whose aggressive patriotism becomes a form of torture.
Walking into the Old Fitzroy theatre space one is normally expecting to see the quaint space used to the best of a company’s ability. It is compact and endearing, more often than most the set designer has succumbed to what they have to work with, with no complaints from the audience as all accept and would most certainly agree you’ve got to use what you have been given. This indeed was not the case for the mind of director and designer Rodney Fisher who has managed to transform the quaint space and overturn its announcement of its constraints. Busting that thought right open by transforming this space into something quite surprisingly extraordinary. Fishers design is epic in its detailing of a Wisconsin farm-house, nothing a miss or forgotten, professional on every level from trinkets to the smell of cooking bacon. Your initial thought with this design is that audience is being presented a play of literal means, yet the text unravels being exposed as more abstract with bold symbolic revelations than entirely literal. A literal set turns eerie by the texts heightened reality making it evermore the brilliant.
Fishers direction was equally as beautiful and transfixing as his design. Not a new kid on the block, his experience and expertise shone through his actors, their movement and convictions were firm and unwavering. The silences were filled with purpose, intent was clear, gripping and well guided. The text was imbedded into the minds and bodies of these actors as truth and that is directing at its greatest success.
Vanessa Downing plays Emma, the house wife of this little dairy farm. Downing portrayed this character with a constrained boldness. The character a simple house wife who was born in the house she still resides is pushed to her limits by a pushy political figure to her tether. Downing exposed her characters fears and lack of understanding in ways that felt sincere and honest. Downings performance was rich and moreish, enjoyable and relishing to the dawning of the lights to curtain.
Jake Lyall plays Haynes, the on the run science experiment of sorts. I don’t like to compare actors to other actors but I could not help compare his acting abilities to that of American actor Ryan Gosling. Lyalls emotional depth and physical connection to his characters immense fears and torture was an exceptional performance to behold. The energy he projected and consumed was electrifying. This young talent will no doubt go far in his career if he continues to clearly sponge up direction and character like he did on The God of Hell stage. Stunning to watch.
Ben McIvor plays Welch, a grossly patriotic guilt-tripping political figure of the new America. McIvor played the part with an immaculate calculation that was humourous and sinister. A heightened charismatic caricature that was compelling to watch. His execution was heartless towards the other characters who showed signs of humanity and the human condition, where as his had no sympathies what so ever, only to his cause. McIvor presented an almost alien robotic human being which is terrifying in itself a brain washed idea of a man. McIvor was believable and gave no hint of who the man behind the mask once was. McIvors convictions presented some scary ideas of first world manipulations and terrorism. Again Fishers direction spot perfect, McIvor in step beautifully.
Tony Poli plays Frank, the Farmer and lover of his heifers. He cares for a simple old-fashioned America with an old-fashioned dream. Poli gave a performance to watch that was like eating Grandma’s Sunday roast, warming, humble and satisfying. Frank is an impressionable character with a big heart that is taken advantage of. Poli uses his movement and facial expressions in a manner that words can not often express. Poli was pure in his performance, comical and transparent. An almost child-mannered like approach that had his character in a regretful bind having you feeling sympathetic for the kind of person he represents.
In conclusion The God of Hell is a whip smart play by Sam Shepard a play of the utmost professional standard. Rodney Fisher has put together a production worthy of a sell out season with a company of actors and production crew that held nothing back, a HUGE bravo from me! It goes down like a great 10 year aged smooth whiskey!
The God of Hell is playing at SITCO at the Old Fitzroy 26th-13th September