Backstage West

Reviewed By Terry Morgan

You know you're in for a different theatrical experience when the program warns you to beware that "flying blood may be airborne" during the show. Indeed this is not a typical play in any way. It's a re-creation of a tool used by the Christian right to scare teens into following their interpretation of the Bible. Although the idea of a Christian alternative to a traditional haunted house walkthrough was supposedly started by Jerry Falwell in the late 1970s, this particular variation comes from the Abundant Life Church in Colorado.

Some highlights of the instructional tour of depravity include the grisly abortion of a fetus who would have grown up to be a preacher but who sadly gets shoved into a garbage disposal unit instead; an unfortunate girl who gets drugged and raped at a rave, then takes her own life (a wonderfully cheesy special effect follows); and the sad spectacle of a dying AIDS victim who refuses to renounce his homosexuality, only to be dragged down to hell by some big fake monster hands. A tour through hell is populated by begging sinners--and one awfully cute beastie apparently doing the Macarena--and ends with a meeting with the Devil. On the evening reviewed, the Devil was played by Bill Maher--there's a rotating cast of celebs doing cameos here--and his performance was pretty hesitant as he read his lines from cue cards taped up on the wall above the audience's heads. But, as he put it: "I'm evil; I'm not off-book!" Things are redeemed by the appearance of Jesus (Andy Richter, looking sweetly smug in mock piety), whose fashionable cross is made from blue furry material on a backing of white furry material.

Hell House director Amit Itelman and cast directors Maggie Rowe and Jill Soloway have a tricky job: They have the actors play the show straight instead of smirkingly, knowing that the prospective audience is coming to laugh at it. This tonal problem, and the fact that the script is not so great, makes this an interesting and amusing, if not outstanding, experience.