GOD’S COUNTRY | Review by Robert W. McDowell


God's Country Raleigh Ensemble Players

GOD’S COUNTRY, a 1988 docudrama by 52-year-old Denver, CO-born playwright Steven Dietz, is a harrowing journey to the heart of darkness that was the white supremacist movement in the western United States during the 1980s, when the radio waves cracked with anti-Semitic talk-show callers fulminating against ZOG (the Zionist Occupation Government of what they called the Jewnited States) and beating the drums — war drums, as it turned out — for the establishment of a “White American Bastion” — no Jews or “mud people” (African Americans and other people of color) allowed — in the Pacific Northwest.

Sean A. Brosnahan, God's Country, Raleigh Ensemble Players (photos)
Sean A. Brosnahan, Raleigh Ensemble Players (photos)

White nationalist demagogue Robert Jay Matthews (passionately played by Sean A. Brosnahan in the current Raleigh Ensemble Players production of GOD’S COUNTRY) helped found a neo-Nazi organization variously called The Order or the Silent Brotherhood (or Brüder Schweigen in the German language of their hero of heroes Adolf Hitler). To raise money to establish a white homeland and arm its occupants, The Order embarked on a crime spree that included a $3.6 million armored car heist and the assassination of acerbic liberal Jewish radio talk-show host Alan Berg (feisty L.A. Rogers in bulldog mode), whose acrimonious nightly debates with Holocaust deniers and others from the far-out fringe that even ultra-conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh calls the Keepers of Odd Knowledge, or KOOKS. (Rogers and Chris Milner have a hilarious bit in GOD’S COUNTRY as a couple of creepy conspiratologists named Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith, who think that Anne Frank’s diary was forged by Aristotle Onassis, that LBJ conspired with Onassis and others to kill JFK, etc.)

Dramatist Steven Dietz tries to pack too many facts into GOD’S COUNTRY, which becomes a kaleidoscopic play — a series of vivid but rapidly changing compositions painted (to mix the metaphor) in primary colors. Each member of the play’s 11-member cast tackles multiple roles, and it is at times hard to determine who’s playing whom. The REP program is little help, because it just lists the most prominent role that each actor plays. So, in most cases, this review will stick with that role.

God's Country Raleigh Ensemble Players
Raleigh Ensemble Players (photos), Staci Sabarsky, Brenda Lo-Griffin, Jessica Jalál Phelps

Brenda Lo is righteous indignation personified as prosecuting attorney Mueller; Eric Morales is positively reptilian as former Order member and chief prosecution witness Denver Parmenter; and Shawn Smith and Shawn Stoner are thoroughly hissable smirking anti-Semites as retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Bud Farrell and PRIMROSE & CATTLEMAN’S GAZETTE publisher Rick Elliot, respectively. Staci Sabarsky adds a memorable cameo as Mathews’ willowy mistress Zillah Craig, and Jessica Jalal Phelps holds her own as Alan Berg’s grieving ex-wife Judith, who barely missed taking a bullet herself.

In addition to conspiratologist Mr. Smith, Chris Milner makes an indelible impression as an angry Farmer about to lose his family farm to foreclosure. Thomas Porter is good as defense attorney Halprin and several other obstreperous characters, Hillary Aarons is impressive as a Student who is (literally) crucified after he rejects the white supremacist philosophy that he once embraced, and rising Sanderson High School junior Leo Brody contributes a chilling characterization of a clean-cut Boy who buys into the hate speech and violence against minorities that The Order was preaching (cue “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from CABARET).

Sadly, there are only two more performances of GOD’S COUNTRY, whose characters were/are real people (or composites of real people) and whose dialogue is largely drawn from courtroom transcripts. Steven Dietz’s play preaches an important sermon about how patriotism can be perverted, and not only can the events that accompanied Hitler’s rise to power happen here — some of them already have.

Raleigh Ensemble Players presents GOD’S COUNTRY at 8 p.m. July 1 and 2 in the Cary Academy Fine & Performing Arts Center, 1500 N. Harrison Ave., Cary, North Carolina 27513.

NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 8 p.m. July 1st performance.


The Playwright: http://www.finearts.utexas.edu/tad/people/faculty_and_staff/faculty/dietz.cfm (University of Texas at Austin website), http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=people&keyword=name&first=Steven&last=Dietz&middle= (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1075146/ (Internet Movie Database).

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).