10 hours ago
Friday, October 13, 2006
A hell of a show
Les Freres Corbusier's Hell House at St. Ann's Warehouse is scary in several ways. The company that gave us Boozy (nominally about Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, and one of my favorite shows of the past couple of years) bought a $300 Hell House kit from Pastor Keenan Roberts—who makes quite a nice chunk of change by selling them to churches who want to set them up for Halloween—and put it on with a straight face. Small groups of 10-12 people are led through a maze of interconnected rooms by a demon guide and for about 45 minutes we are exposed to what fundamentalist Christians think is scary: a girl is slipped a roofy at a rave, gets gang-raped and commits suicide; a cheerleader endures a bloody abortion; a student guns down his class, Columbine-style; two gay men get married to each other, then one of them becomes sick with AIDS and agonizes on a hospital bed (the doctor wears a yarmulke—nice touch); and so on. The production is pretty much identical to the ones staged all around the Bible Belt (though it would have been even more hardcore to import an actual Hell House complete with Christian extras); the difference is the audience, and how it perceives the Boschian tableaux.
To a proud daughter of the Enlightenment, the scariest part of Hell House is that there are quite a few Americans who take this superstitious nonsense seriously; not only that, but these smug, medieval obscurantists also feel they can tell everybody how to lead their lives. This Hell House may be designed to put the fear of god into fundamentalists—and I can only imagine how it must freak out/screw up a 14-year-old girl in the depths of Oklahoma or Colorado—but it certainly makes my secular-humanist blood boil with anger.
On a side note, Keenan Roberts' approach is very similar to that of fundamentalist cartoonist Jack Chick, whose illustrated tracts are popular kitsch items in many hipster-heathen household. Both men use popular culture to draw in their victims, and both display an uncommon amount of gleeful violence and luridness just as they make a show of demonizing these traits.