Christianity Today

The stars come out to mock

"To lampoon (Christian) fundamentalist beliefs about hell," the secularist group Center for Inquiry-West is staging its own production of Hell House, the evangelistic drama created by Colorado youth pastor Keenan Roberts. The play has attracted a large cadre of hip comedians and actors, including Bill Maher (Satan), Andy Richter (Jesus), Richard Belzer, Simpsons producer and standup comic Dana Gould , former porn star Traci Lords, Patton Oswalt (whose website proclaims "Christians hate me"), David Cross, Sarah Silverman, 24's Mary Lynn Rajskub, The Daily Show's Matt Walsh, Six Feet Under's Justina Machado and Rainn Wilson, and, um, a guy named Craig Bierko.

It's worth noting that an actual Christian film would kill or die to have just one actor with this degree of cache. (Most are stuck with people with about as much recognition as, um, Craig Bierko.)

Director/producer Maggie Rowe plans to stick religiously to Roberts' original scripts, which she got by calling him up and telling him she was from a youth group. To avoid the sin of lying, she called her production company "The Youth Group."

"Rowe acknowledges stretching the truth," the Rocky Mountain News reports. "To make up, she promised Roberts a free trip to Hollywood for opening night. But some cast members are so offended that they don't want to host him, she said. Roberts said he'll go on his own dime."

He's miffed that she misrepresented herself and her purposes but isn't holding a grudge. "People have been trying to damage this message since they crucified the founder of the movement," he told the News. "It's exciting. Hell House is going to another stage of exposure. … Whatever their agenda is, I know they cannot damage the power of the gospel."

Here's how the publicity materials describe the group's agenda: "Hollywood Hell House is not in any way an indictment of religion, Christianity, or the Bible. Its purpose is to demonstrate the absurdity of a literal interpretation of the Bible, specifically the belief in a literal everlasting hell." Indicting religion, Christianity, and the Bible is left to the production's parent organization.

The play opens August 27 at the center's Hollywood headquarters and runs through (what else?) Halloween. Tickets are $10.