nytheatre.com review by Eric Winick
August 11, 2007
The most surprising thing about Hail Satan is not its dry, occasionally brittle sense of humor, but how seriously it takes itself. There's a sense that playwright Mac Rogers wants us to view his play as a fact-based, almost docu-realistic study of what happens when the spawn of Satan is conjured by a coven of office workers in Middle America. It's only the sheer ridiculousness of the situation that brings the funny.
Tom's a mild-mannered copywriter for a software company that develops "Thoughtware," an educational tool for children that encourages self-sufficiency over co-dependency. This, we soon learn, is a key tenet of Satanism, the religion enthusiastically embraced by all four of Tom's colleagues. A bachelor and religious swing vote, Tom initially doesn't know what to make of this discovery; nonetheless, he's soon joining his new friends for a weekend service that takes place, conveniently enough, in the office. Remarkably, the experience isn't altogether off-putting, and aside from the fact that they're worshiping the Prince of Darkness (and some office politics), there's nothing remotely odd about the behavior of Tom's co-workers.
Act One takes place over the space of a couple months, moving methodically from scene to scene, punctuated by blackouts and music. By the end, Tom's grown comfortable enough with Satanism to take part in a "conjuration" ceremony, in which he's made to lie on an altar as his boss dribbles blood on his shirt. What happens next is the event we've been anticipating: the birth of the devil's child, in the form of a girl named Angie. To describe Act Two would give away the means by which Hail Satan goes deliciously off the rails; let's just say that Angie's presence awakens the fatherly instincts in some, and the competitive aspects in others. As a result of which, of course, there's hell to be paid.
There's no doubt that Rogers and director Jordana Williams have taken the right approach to their subject matter, as the tone of solemnity only heightens the bizarre goings-on. What's frustrating are the motivational corners that have been cut: in order to believe a milquetoast like Tom would stray into Satanism, we need to know he's genuinely searching, which isn't established. In Act Two, as Angie ages from two months to eighteen years (things speed up considerably), Tom's desire to be a daddy comes seemingly out of nowhere. While Rogers possesses a fine ear for dialogue, he weights down his script with long-winded expositional segments and an unnecessary love affair when he should be kicking his plot machinery into gear. I'll wager that the two-hour play would fare a bit better if at least 30 minutes were shaved from its running time.
The cast is fine across the board, with props especially due to two players who bring it home with gobs of empathy and brio: Matthew Kinney, who's perfectly befuddled in the tricky role of Tom; and the preternaturally perky Laura Perloe, whose zesty turn as Angie steals the show out from under her fellow players. Her rise from mewling infant to enfant terrible makes the wait through Rogers's sluggish first act more than worthwhile.