Day: January 21st, 2007

The God of Hell

Sunday, January 21st, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Eats, Friends

Back at Congee Village for a some pre-play dining. PD and I were waiting in the bar area when SC & JG raced in from their busy day of home hunting. With our entire party accounted for, the hostess seated us in the mezzanine dining room: all exposed brick and bamboo.

Our dinner was tasty and, as usual, an amazingly good value: our meal of Scallion Pancakes, Sauteed Snow Peas Leaf with Garlic, Seafood with Fish Maw Soup (accompanied by a dish of red rice vinegar — one of my favorites!) and Sliced Beef with Black Bean Sauce Chow Fun Noodles, set us back less than $15 apiece.

Congee Village

We braced for the cold walk east to a pocket of the Lower East Side I rarely explore: just north of the Williamsburg Bridge, south of Houston. SC observed that we could be in another city entirely, with the lack of recognizable landmarks; earlier, I had to map the address of the Big Little Theatre on Ridge Street to know where exactly we were headed. “Google maps is the best!” But there it was: nestled among the brick tenements, marked by a vintage sign alluding to the space’s former incarnation as “Arthur’s Dress Shop” (with a missing “R” replaced by a crude plywood cutout.)

The quiet street has not (yet) been overrun by the trendy bars and clubs that have made the Lower Eastpacking District and particularly, nearby Clinton Street, a dining destination in recent years with new restaurants cropping up every few months.

JS, whom I met for the first time this night, was directing tonight’s production of The God of Hell  as part of the Michael Chekhov Theatre Company’s Sam Shepard Festival. The company is presenting every one of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s (45+!) works in this 20-month festival, which runs through December 2007.

The farcical political comedy was written by Shepard as a response to the post-September 11 political climate. Clearly intended as a criticism of the Bush-Cheney administration, the play debuted in previews barely a week before the 2004 presidential elections — probably too late to have deep impact on the voters’ minds. It was first produced at The Actors Studio Drama School by a cast that included Tim Roth and Randy Quaid. The work has since played in London, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles (where it was directed by Seinfeld alum Jason Alexander.)

The three-scene story revolves around a rural Wisconsin dairy farmer and his wife, and how their peaceful middle-American life is tranformed into an Orwellian nightmare by a mysterious, ultra-patriotic government employee who descends on their farmhouse unannounced and in pursuit of the couple’s visiting guest. Along the way, there are sly, euphemistic references to military secrets and torture (i.e., “aggressive interrogation”) and covert medical experimentation; the title itself is a coded reference to plutonium.

JS made some savvy modifications to the play for this NYC production (running through February 11), which PD had keyed me into before dinner. Notably, he opted to cast the farming couple as dark-skinned South Asians with distinct non-native accents. Without making any other adjustments to the plot or script, the shift underscored the current culture of suspicion that surrounds non-whites in this country, rendering the already aggressive scenes far more tense and disturbing.

God of Hell Stage

Big Little Theatre

There are no comments just yet