The setting is a Wisconsin dairy farm where the heifer-breeding Frank and Emma live in rustic isolation. But their peace has been shattered by Graig Haynes, a radioactive refugee from a plutonium-producing establishment. While he hides in the basement, a supposed salesman of patriotic baubles named Welch turns up in hot pursuit. What follows is a process of intimidation in which Welch not only gets his man but terrorises the innocent mid-Westerners.

Sam Shepard

"I kind of wanted to get it done in New York before the election. I'm not sure it matters, but I figured I'd get it out there."

"I really wanted to write a black farce, so I went back and studied Joe Orton. Nobody wrote better farce than him, and he was very dark. Not being as witty and clever as Joe Orton, I used Entertaining Mr. Sloane as a jumping-off place. I started with three characters, the couple and the stranger who comes to stay with them. The notion of somebody coming from out of nowhere and disturbing the peace. It fit perfectly with the Republican invasion. The whole storm that built up after 9-11. The Welch character came in last. I wanted him to be like something out of Brecht's clown plays."

"We're being sold a brand-new idea of patriotism. It never occurred to me that patriotism had to be advertised. Patriotism is something you deeply felt. You didn't have to wear it on your lapel or show it in your window or on a bumper sticker. That kind of patriotism doesn't appeal to me at all."

"What is that show-your-colors mentality about? Fear. The sides are being divided now. It's very obvious. So if you're on the other side of the fence, you're suddenly anti-American. It's breeding fear of being on the wrong side. Democracy's a very fragile thing. You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you stop being responsible to it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it's no longer democracy, is it? It's something else. It may be an inch away from totalitarianism."

"I don't want to become a spokesman for a point of view. I really want the play to speak for itself... It's mysterious, yet at the same time something is going on."

"''At this point in time, I think comedy actually works better. It allows people a way to breathe together and feel like they are together in a moment with the actors. Tragedy: that's all you get from the newspapers and magazines anyway. But I think there's another way in."

Performance History

First performance was on October 29, 2004 at New York's Actors Studio Drama School Theatre at Westbeth. The official opening night was held on November 16 with the closing night on November 28. The play was directed by Lou Jacob with the following cast: Randy Quaid (Frank), Tim Roth (Welch), J. Smith-Cameron (Emma) and Frank Wood (Haynes).

It premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in London on October 28, 2005 for a six-week run. It has also been staged in several US cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Jonesboro (AK), Shepherdstown (WV) and Evanston (IL).

Opening Night - November 16, 2004

"One doesn't think of Sam Shepard as a political playwright, even though he began his career in the 1960s. But the Bush-Cheney regime has apparently made him one. Shepard's new play 'The God of Hell' makes an impassioned, though not entirely coherent, argument that the administration's unchecked militarism threatens our democratic way of life. Though far from his best work, it marks a provocative change of pace for the writer." - William Stevenson,

"Sam Shepard, impeccable actor but uneven dramatist, gives us a staunchly Bush-baiting stinger in 'The God of Hell,' an absurdist but not entirely absurd comedy."  - John Simon, New York Magazine

"Sam Shepard's venomous George Bush broadside, 'God of Hell,' clearly preaches to the choir. But it is such a droll and clever sermon that, at 75 minutes, it flies by as it gleefully delivers a few Bush-like concepts of civil liberties to Middle America. The show also delivers a heavy dose of unwitting deja vu, tearing a page from the right-wing playbook of some years ago as it serves up a healthy banquet of political irony."  - Pat Craig, Contra Costa Times

"With enough artists like Sam Shepard to employ their talents to nudge complacent Americans into being more actively involved in seeing to it that the Welches of this world can't grab more and more power, the Armageddon depicted in 'God of Hell' will remain a cautionary tale."  - Elyse Sommer, Curtain Up

"In writing what he has described as 'a take-off on Republican fascism', Shepard is both more explicit and more perky than usual. This is more like Tom and Jerry in Abu Ghraib. - Susannah Clapp, The Observer

"Shepard hasn't written the penetrating satire he's attempted. More than anything, 'Hell' is a case study in how hard it is to do what the Mime Troupe, at its best, or Italy's great Dario Fo, so often do so well."  - Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle

"Sam Shepard's new 90-minute play 'The God of Hell,' demonstrates: (1) When it comes to politics, this iconic writer, who got his start in the late 1960s, suffers from a severe case of arrested development; and (2) when it comes to conjuring theatrical menace, building on the mythology of American gothic and just capturing the joys of breakfast, he remains the blackly comic master."   - Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun Times

"Shepard's black-as-midnight satire, 'The God of Hell', is memorable chiefly for the naked anger that underlies its twisted story... The result isn't necessarily top-drawer theater... It's filled with the urgency of a public plea against complacency in the face of perceived threats to the very roots of American democracy. But there's no denying the play's effect."  - Paul Hodgins, Orange County Register

"Seemingly on the verge of an ideological meltdown, playwright Sam Shepard aims for shock and awe but his audience gets mauled in 'The God of Hell,' an 80-minute flamethrower too heated for its own good. Consumed by rage and hampered by haste—he raced to get this political rant in front of the public to attempt to affect the last presidential election - Shepard let his passions gallop ahead of his dramatic sensibilities, compromising what could have been an example of one of art's greatest contributions: provoking questions and encouraging independent thought to rattle the status quo."  - Steve Bornfeld, Las Vegas Weekly

"No one has told Sam Shepard that as you age, you are gracefully supposed to lose the fire of youth from your belly. Judging by 'The God of Hell', the veteran has lost none of his devastating ability to attack what he sees as the American malaise... Shepard's onslaught on values in America today grabs the attention and achieves its goals."  - Philip Fisher, The British Theatre Guide

"An 80-minute apocalyptic satirical tragedy, this is more overtly political - not to mention raucously silly - than any of Shepard's best known visions of the hip and unknowable open road. ...a shivering wink of existential mystery that suggests Harold Pinter by way of Samuel Beckett."   - Linda Winer, Newsday

"Shepard's mix of wry humor with wholesale paranoia is at least piquant. Whether a paranoid political cartoon, even spiced with piquancy, is what we need just now is a different question. Certainly the less identifiable mysterious invaders in earlier Shepard plays had more resonance."  - Michael Feingold, Village Voice

"What 'God of Hell' does effectively is the Hitchcock-meets- 'Twilight Zone' sense of menace that permeates its brief 73 minutes."  - Chad Jones, Inside Bay Area

"Aside from pleasing the liberal choir, the play is at its best when it deconstructs Shepard's signature, slightly twisted landscape. And toward the end, Shepard finally adds needed depth by giving Welch one of those 'You can't handle the truth!' speeches, when he attacks the rural couple for enjoying freedom without the responsibilities. But much of the rest feels predictable and unsatisfying."   - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

"While Shepard's heart may be in the right place, you feel that his moral rage has undermined his usual mythic intensity... In the end all the play proves is that good drama makes the best propaganda, and that Shepard's 'Buried Child' offered a far more withering assault on American values than this flimsy poster-art."   - Michael Billington, The Guardian

"With 'The God of Hell,' Shepard joins a growing list of dramatists - A.R. Gurney ('Mrs. Farnsworth') and David Hare ('Stuff Happens') among them - who are using the pulpit of the stage these days to express revulsion over the direction in which this country seems to be headed. The play capably conveys Shepard's anxiety. But the alarm bells it rings make more loud noise than good theater.    - Peter Marks, Washington Post

"It’s great to see that Shepard – probably Mamet’s best-known surviving peer – is still near the top of his game."  - Don Shirley, LA City Beat

"While 'The God of Hell,' which its author has described as 'a takeoff on Republican fascism,' is neither a smooth nor subtle play, at its best it has an absurd and angry vigor that brings to mind Mr. Shepard's salad days as the ultimate wild young dramatist of the 1960's". - Ben Brantley, New York Times

"Shepard is clearly making a statement about American imperialism and the current administration's use of patriotism to justify its goals, but he fails to do so with sufficient satirical bite or wit."  - Frank Scheck, NY Post

"A tart slice of American absurdism, 'The God of Hell' has Sam Shepard's unmistakable, iconoclastic stamp all over it... Perhaps somewhat hastily hustled together to hit the boards during election season, the play trades knowingly in the current climate of fear. While its political satire is blunted by unsound plot logic, the vigorous staging and performances nonetheless make for dynamic theater."   - David Rooney, Variety

"'The God of Hell' has the anger and white-hot energy - as well as the incoherence - of something dashed off in the heat of passion. Still, it's by the man who wrote 'True West', 'Buried Child' and 'Fool for Love', so the end, no matter how bewildering and disappointing, is bound to have more than passing interest for dedicated theatergoers." -   Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press

"Shepard's ostensibly simple political broadside - whose call to alarm rings more with absurdist resignation than Brechtian defiance - has nonetheless a wily power curled up inside."  - Robert Avila, San Franscisco Bay Guardian

"It says a lot that a veteran American playwright — and self-described nonpartisan — such as Shepard has been so moved by the antics of the Bush administration that he has written a work brimming with rage and melancholy. When Frank sighs, 'I miss the Cold War,' Shepard is not simply being ironic — there’s a genuine sadness for the loss of what he considers a time of perfection."  - Steven Mikulan, LA Weekly

Like all satires deliberately set at a certain distance from reality, 'The God of Hell' asks the audience to suspend its sense of disbelief a little more than normal. But what ultimately makes it rather disturbing is that its absurd events are not all that far-removed from the actual news events of recent times. The world can be a scary place, and this is one scary play."  - Robert Loerzel, Pioneer Press

"'The God of Hell' is on its surface lean, mean and masterfully acerbic. But beneath its darkly comic exterior lies a tender, yearning heart, and it's the tension between these two elements - what Shepard sees happening in his country and what he wants for it - that makes God at once pungent and poignant."  - Elyse Gardner, USA Today

"For some audiences, this kind of direct political message may feel obvious, no matter how tightly written the play, no matter how skillfully Shepard heightens the sense of danger. But for others, the message will sound like what 'The God of Hell' is: a playwright's impassioned call to beware."  - Alexis Green, Hollywood Reporter

"Shepard’s argument is too obvious to leave you with many new ideas to chew on; but there’s still bite to this sour slice of American pie."  - Sam Marlowe, The Times, UK

"Sam Shepard is best-known for brooding dramas set in Middle America - unnerving portraits of twisted relationships, exploding long-standing myths about the innocence of our nation's heartland. In his latest work, he again seems determined to challenge our comfort zones, but his penchant for subtext and lyricism has given way to obvious and repetitive politicizing, devoid of dramaturgic shadings."  - Les Spindle,

"'The God of Hell' is a sledgehammer of a cautionary tale that pounds away at its themes all too relentlessly."  - Karen D'Souza, San Jose Mercury News

Photos from the 2004 NY Production