By now you’ve probably heard about the hellacious goings-on at Saint Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO. (If not here’s an in-depth Gothamist interview with the producer of Hell House, Aaron Lemon-Strauss.)
A brief summary for the uninitiated: The script for Hell House comes from Pastor Keenan Roberts, a Colorado evangelist who has sold thousands of Hell House how-to kits to church groups around the world. Hell House visitors are escorted through a series of vignettes which illustrate the agonizing results of such sinful behavior as homosexuality, abortion, and dancing at raves.
According to Pastor Roberts, if Hell House is presented according to his guidelines, the show will yield a “33% salvation and re-dedication decision rate”. Although that percentage is sure to dip somewhat in secular-humanist-Defeatocrat New York, Pastor Roberts gave this production his blessing after attending opening night.
A Demon Tour Guide (played during my visit with great relish by Andy Horowitz) greeted our little group at the gates of hell and whisked us into the first of nine rooms, where young Jessica (Katy Vagnino) is raped after going to a rave and taking drugs. When she comes to in her bedroom, the Demon encourages her to commit suicide, in part because she’s guilty of being molested by her father.
This was followed up by a gory, vacuum-packed abortion scene, after which the guide escorted us into a scale replica of a woman’s uterus, where we were encouraged to crowd in around the fetus. (“Come on in; there’s womb for everyone!”) Gigantic forceps then poked in and yanked the baby (played by a diminutive Liz Vacco) kicking and screaming out of the mother.
After a Columbine inspired school shooting scene, where the Demon chalks up young Jeremy’s (Teddy Bergman) shooting spree to heavy-metal music and “Goosebumps”, we were taken to the chapel of homosexual love to witness two men tie controversial knot.
No sooner were they pronounced man and man then altar revolved to reveal one of the men, Steve (Rob O’Hare), dying of A.I.D.S. in a hospital bed. The demon gleefully introduced this tableau with a cry of, “out of the closet and straight to the casket!”
While Steve’s husband begged him to accept Jesus, a woman was praying for salvation from her adjacent death bed. In one of Hell House’s most baffling bits of didacticism, the Demon informs her that she “rejected God when [she] embraced anorexia!” Despite her eating disorder, the woman is delivered to heaven by an angel. Steve, however, refuses to say the magic words and is sucked down to hell through a smoldering crater in the bed.
And so our flock was shepherded through several other equally graphic vignettes, each revealing the horrible fate in store for those who stray not from spirituality but from fundamentalist dogma. Pastor Roberts’s script is well-tailored for a target-market of confused, at-risk youth in need of a simple, disciplined ideology. I don’t doubt his claim that Hell House can convert a third of those who pass through; for troubled kids seeking answers, any belief system showing a clear-cut way out of despair can seem very appealing.
Though the scenes described above are at times nauseating for the "moral values" they espouse, Les Freres Corbusier’s Hell House is more funny than frightful.
But the laughs arise from the ridiculous text itself, which hardly needs any editorializing. (I never got the sense that I was watching smug New York actors commenting on the backward ways of incurious hillbillies.)
True to their stated intent, this production is a straightforward rendition of what one might experience in a red-state Hell House, albeit with better production values. What makes Hell House more than just a whimsical freak show is the troubling knowledge that a vast number of Americans, from Dubya on down, are bound by this narrow, vengeful ideology.
7:30pm // St. Ann's Warehouse, 38 Water Street, Brooklyn // Ends tonight, call (718) 254-8779 to inquire about ticket availability.