Hollywood Hell House
(Steve Allen Theater; 99 seats; $10)
A Youth Group in association with Center for Inquiry-West presentation of a play in one act using the scripts from the Abundant Life Christian Center. Directed by Maggie Rowe and Jill Soloway. Director of Haunted House, Amit Itelman.
High Priestess - Laura Summer
By JOEL HIRSCHHORN
Gang rape, abortion and the evils of heavy-metal music are among the propaganda targets spotlighted in a sizzling half-hour vision of hell being enacted at the Steve Allen Theater. Groups of spectators are led every 15 minutes through eight rooms bursting with "sin-infested" behavior. Show's vignettes in each of these claustrophobic cubicles reek with gross-out gore, distracting from the dangerous implications of narrow-minded fundamentalism.
The Hell House concept took wing in 1992 when Keenan Roberts, pastor of the Abundant Life Church in Arvada, Colo., decided to "show young people they can go to hell for abortion, adultery, homosexuality, drinking ... unless they repent and end their behavior." His ideas have been scrupulously reproduced by using script, staging, costumes and music according to the instructions of his official $299 "Hell House""Hell House" kit.
The tone of the new version suggests a comic takeoff of this material, and could have gone even further in satirizing Roberts' views of eternal damnation.
A Gene Simmons-type demon guide, dressed by costumer Jill Roth in combat boots and red kimono, sweeps us into fiery, flamboyant episodes. The most chilling one centers on a pregnant woman screaming during an abortion (Jennifer Elise Cox), soaked in fake blood that floods the table, the doctor's uniform, the floor and the walls. Shamelessly manipulative as this section is, it effectively turns the room into a terrifying torture chamber.
The rave sequence -- spotlighting a young woman who takes a drink laced with drugs and pays the price by being gang-raped -- is limply staged. Much more gripping is a suicide scene indicting promiscuity. As the suicide is being committed, darkness descends and liquid, meant to be blood, spurts out and drenches the spectator.
Heavy-metal music is condemned via a miniature Columbine sequence, directed in vivid slow motion Jill SolowayJill Soloway and Maggie Rowe. In the next room, homosexuality gets attacked and punished when dying AIDS patient Steve (Kevin Pass) is sentenced to a horrifying hereafter because he refuses to accept Jesus as his savior. Pass conveys convincing panic as his bed collapses and sinks down into Hades amid symbolically ominous red lights.
Hell, the production's big punchline, isn't sufficiently scary. The best image is a creature in a pig mask, shredding a human being with a meat grinder. Inevitably there's that cliched target, the lascivious rock star, alongside monsters with deformed heads. Meant to clinch the fundamentalist Christian case against what it perceives as evil, this portion is diminished by a cartoon flavor.
Comedian Andy RichterAndy Richter, face painted red, with horns on head and hands in cloven hooves, sneers amusingly as Satan while announcing, "Freddie and Jason have nothing on me." After warning us of his wickedness, his powers are obliterated in no time flat by a beaming angel and Jesus (Ron ZimmermanRon Zimmerman) pops up against a blue faux-fur cross, smiling sweetly and touting the virtues of being saved as we digest the surprising tattoos all over his body and chest.
In addition to opening-night guest Bill MaherBill Maher, a roster of 80 performers are expected to make appearances, including Richard Belzer, Dana Gould, Traci Lords, Alan Thicke and Justina Machado. The roles offer a juicy showcase for these actors, but for all its thundering theatrics, "Hell House" flies by too quickly and doesn't delve deeply into its central theme.
Lighting, Steve Pope; costumes, Jill Roth; sound, Brandon Johnson, JBJ Systems; stage managers, Tom Hargis, Jimmy Ioto, Steve Pope. Opened Aug. 28, 2004; reviewed Sept. 14; runs through Oct. 31. Running time: 30 MIN. Demon Tour Guides: Bob Dassie, Jonathan Schmock, Jimmy Doyle, Bill Rutkowski, Gary Shapiro.
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Date in print: Tue., Sep. 21, 2004, Los Angeles