'God's Country' is a violent drama of white supremacists

January 20, 1995|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

When the prophet Isaiah predicted, ". . . a little child shall lead them," he was prophesying about a time of peace. But the young boy we see training for leadership in "God's Country" is armed and dressed in camouflage fatigues.

That boy, played with impressive maturity by Sean Dickerson, is one of the most chilling characters in this drama, written by Steven Dietz and stunningly staged by director Robert C. Clingan at AXIS Theatre.

However, one reason the boy (whose character is not given a name) is so effective is that he is one of the few subtle touches in a play that, from the opening gunshot, is almost always too loud and feverishly pitched.

Dietz has fashioned a rather unusual script. Using a technique the director compares to collage, the playwright has pieced together actual court transcripts, texts from radio broadcasts and other real-life material to create a play that examines white supremacist groups and, in particular, the 1982 Denver murder of controversial Jewish radio talk-show host Alan Berg by members of a group called The Order.

AXIS' production uses an ensemble cast of a dozen actors in multiple roles. At various times, they portray lawyers, defendants and victims; in some cases several actors portray the same character simultaneously. It's a highly theatrical approach, enhanced by director Clingan's strong but simple scenic design, which features a raked stage, painted with a gray-and-white representation of the American flag.

In the opening scene, when a prosecution witness named Denver Parmenter (Gary Riggin) describes the ritual of taking The Order's oath -- in which the men gather in a circle around a baby and shout the group's tenets -- we see this acted out on the opposite side of the stage. Later, when Parmenter explains how The Order obtained false identities by getting the names of dead babies from their tombstones, three crosses rise up from the stage floor while actors standing beside them softly and insidiously intone a long list of names.

Most of the cast members have mastered the play's difficult demands, particularly Mark F. Bernier, who plays Berg as a shrill, fast-talking broadcaster, shrouded in a constant cloud of cigarette smoke. While the many violent scenes are tightly choreographed, "God's Country" is long on harshness and short on character development. In this context, the rare quiet scene stands out, and the most moving of these is J. E. Dockery's

soft-spoken lament as a father who makes the frightening discovery that his son is a white supremacist.

"God's Country" isn't the only play to focus on Berg's murder. He was also the subject of "Talk Radio," a 1987 play by Eric Bogosian that was made into a movie by director Oliver Stone. Dietz has attempted to cover a broader area. However, by concentrating more on The Order as a group, he has ended up with a play that, despite its relentless quality, is ultimately less

disturbing than it might have been.

'God's Country'

Where: AXIS Theatre, 3600 Clipper Mill Road

When: Through Feb. 12. 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $11 and $13

Call: (410) 243-5237

** 1/2

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