Hell-haunted Hollywood

(Wednesday, September 08, 2004)

Of the many stories devoted to Hollywood Hellhouse, one of the best is by Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News (registration required).

Like most reporters, Weiss includes the remark by Maggie Rowe -- the show's director who posed as a youth group director to buy a Hell House Outreach Kit from Assemblies of God pastor Keenan Roberts -- about her churchgoing childhood. But then he follows it with comic understatement:

Ms. Rowe, a close friend of just about everyone in the cast and many in the first-night audience, said that she was raised in a conservative Christian household -- and that it warped her.

"The biggest fear of my entire life was going to hell," she said.

Now she attends a Zen Buddhist center, where eternal damnation isn't in the big picture.

Weiss also dug more than most reporters, discovering that Andy Richter is a member of the United Church of Christ, and that another cast member isn't entirely sure that hell is just a raucous joke: "Ninety-nine percent of me is sure we're doing OK here," said Michael Friedman, 35, an aspiring screenwriter. "One percent of me is worried we're all going to hell."

And how very reassuring it is to know that Hollywood Hellhouse leaves one of L.A.'s hothouse flowers believing that he now knows conservatives -- not just the fraction of evangelicals or fundamentalists who choose to dwell on hell -- better:

The Hollywood version was real enough for Padraic Duffy, 29, a playwright. He said he knew little about conservative Christianity and welcomed the chance to hear what evangelicals preach -- in a nonthreatening setting.

"It was like a zoo of conservative thinking," he said. "And they were safely behind bars."

Honorable mention: Catherine Seipp in The Wall Street Journal, for writing about the Happy Ending Worthy of a Sitcom: a face-to-face meeting of Roberts and Rowe.