The God of Hell is Sam Shepard's 2004 dark political comedy about a farming couple who hide their desperate friend in their basement.  When an apparent patriotic memorabilia salesman comes knocking, torture and laughs ensue. The original cast featured J. Smith-Cameron (Emma), Randy Quaid (Frank), Tim Roth (Welch), and Frank Wood (Haynes).  

Please read my statement below to see where I'm coming from with this play and my unique vision of Frank and Emma.  The production should come off as a blown out, full throttle, globalized, wickedly dark comedy in the vein of Joe Orton (think Entertaining Mr. Sloane meets Frankenstein).

October, 2006

To:      The Big Little Theatre, New York, NY
From:  Jeffrey Stanley

Here are my thoughts for directing THE GOD OF HELL for your highly acclaimed Sam Shepard Festival, to premiere in January, 2007.  I'm tremendously excited about it and I have a lot of palpable ideas running through my mind about how to stage it.  I know this farcical political comedy just premiered here in 2004 so it's fresh on people's minds.  Therefore it can't merely be a rerun of that same production and it's very timely political message.  Shepard himself said at the time that he hoped it would affect people's decision in the voting booth, i.e., make them not vote for Bush.  Although it's only been two years since then the play can still be done again soon but only if it's given an extremely fresh approach and an even bigger scope.  There's SO much absurdist, anti-Bush political comedy in New York theatre right now we can't just beat a dead horse or no one will bother to come see it.  A new production of this play has got to hit like an atomic bomb.

It shouldn't just be about fascism creeping into American culture and the erosion of freedoms for a white middle class couple in the heartland.  And the play can't just be about Bush or Iraq again like in 2004.  Bush won't be in office much longer and the fascism isn't just impacting the US; our military actions are impacting millions all over the world. We are in a truly global village and that needs to be felt in the play.  What I want to do is blow this thing out so it has a worldwide sense to it, not just a sense that "we poor Americans are having our Constitutional freedoms nibbled away through our own fear and we're not doing anything about it."  That sounds like over-privileged whining if you're an impoverished civilian someplace in the world right now whose whole family just got wiped out by an errant US-made bunker buster, or you're a kid working in a sweatshop in Asia.  Don't get me wrong, this play is hilarious and it needs to stay hilarious while also being taken to a more global level for a sophisticated audience of New Yorkers who aren't presently caught up in a presidential election panic. 

My idea:  Make Frank and Emma a dark-skinned Arabic or South Asian couple.  This would be a play on the very caucasian heartland's fear that anyone who isn't white is either here stealing jobs from "real" Americans or they're part of a terror cell.  In our present culture of suspicion this could be darkly hilarious.  Imagine a Sikh couple (not necessarily Sikhs, just brainstorming here), her in a sulwar kameez and a dainty apron, he in a turban and bib overalls, complete with accents, calling themselves "Frank" and "Emma" and insisting that they're a simple Wisconsin dairy farming family.  It'd be clear without saying a word that they're doing their best to assimilate and be "normal" Americans and not call attention to themselves in the Heartland, and it'd be smart, wicked fun.  I want to push this play in the global direction it's already written in anyway.

Imagine the greater impact Welch now has when he wanders about their house saying that he doesn't see a single sign of patriotic memorabilia and that it's leading him to question their loyalty to the country. He'll be 50 times scarier now than he is already.   Imagine the added weight the end of the play will have when they decide that Welch is right, torture is good and fall in line to march with him.  It's no longer just about their fear making them side with Welch, it's also to prove to Welch that they're not terrorists so they don't get kidnapped (I mean "extraordinarily rendered") and sent to Guantanamo.  Welch already threatens to administer torture (I mean "stress positions") to Emma at one point but do we really believe he'll do it?  I say no - she's a white lady from Wisconsin, come on. The audience won't buy it either.  But if he's threatening to torture (I mean "aggressively interrogate") a brown lady with a foreign accent it'll be one of the scariest moments in the play.

Also when Welch starts decorating their house with all the US flags it feels too on-the-nose to me. It's preaching to the converted. A sophisticated and mostly liberal New York audience is going to need to be more stimulated and challenged than to have American flags flying everywhere just for irony's sake, it's too Hair, it's too All in the Family, it's too MASH.  My idea is to have plenty of American flags, sure.  But there should also be flags with corporate logos:  Nike (conjuring up images of sweatshops and the global economy without saying a word), Walmart, Coke, British Petroleum, De Beers Diamonds, Shell, CNN, FOX, etc.  At first they might appear to be multinational UN flags when Welch is unfurling them and talking about people coming to the farmhouse for an important meeting, but the audience will slowly realize the meeting isn't for spies or generals or politicians, it must be for heads of corporations,  and that they're the people running the new worldwide fascism in lockstep with our government.

I hope none of this sounds too intellectualized - this is a funny, smart play and I'm extremely comfortable directing dark, absurdist comedy. You might know that I directed a short film this summer starring Sarita Choudhury.  You can view the trailer at .

I also intend to enlarge the lighting and sound effects already indicated in the script, magnifying Haynes' "static shock" for greater visual and comic effect.  Ditto the glowing plants at the end.  Also, Welch shouldn't have a small controller with which to electrically torture people, it should be a car battery with jumper cables. 

I also want to station a Secret Service agent dressed identically to Welch outside the theatre preshow.  This secret agent will keep an eye on things, interact with the public as little as possible, but be equipped with an electric joy buzzer to occassionally shake hands with audience members as they enter the theatre:  a foreshadowing of Haynes' monstrous condition.  This agent will also come onstage later during the musical interlude to help Welch hang additional US-corporate flag streamers creating a sickening web of these flags all over the stage to the Fine Young Cannibals' version of "Suspicious Minds."

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Jeffrey Stanley