Arts & Entertainment, Features

REVIEW: Stage Troupe’s “Hail Satan!” cast out of heaven, still burns

(From left) Cameron Barney, Kaitlyn Jones, Kyle Mitchell and Idine Mousavi perform in a Wednesday dress rehearsal for “Hail Satan,” a Boston University Stage Troupe production at the Student Theater at Agganis Arena. PHOTO BY KELSEY CRONIN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
(From left) Cameron Barney, Kaitlyn Jones, Kyle Mitchell and Idine Mousavi perform in a Wednesday dress rehearsal for “Hail Satan,” a Boston University Stage Troupe production at the Student Theater at Agganis Arena. PHOTO BY KELSEY CRONIN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

“Be wary, this play will offend some,” writes Boston University Stage Troupe director Kyle Tague of his new enterprise, “Hail Satan!” in his director’s note, and he’s not wrong: some people might get their feathers ruffled, but honestly, not by much.

Tague chose to direct the play, which opened Thursday night, as the conclusion to his “exploration of religion’s follies.” He seems to have gotten blessing from the original playwright, Mac Rogers, who will come to BU to watch Saturday’s performance. The plot of Rogers’ modern play revolves around a satanic software company set to bring about the coming of the antichrist.

Already, one can sense the storm of clichés bound to happen. If you’ve watched the first half of the “Woodland Critter Christmas” episode of “South Park,” you’ve watched Act I of the play: a reluctant, non-Christian outsider, Tom (played by Idine Mousavi) is convinced by a cast of charming, yet slightly unsettling, characters in his new workplace to lend a hand in summoning the spawn of Satan.

The entirety of the first act serves as a buildup to an inevitable, obvious punchline – a very slow, painful, obvious buildup that will have members of the audience praying for the show to get to the point.

The play jabs at the trappings of the Catholic church: God as a meta-physical being rather than just a metaphor for human goodness, the belief of Satan not as an opponent of good but an advocate of free will, religious conservatives defending their beliefs as the “one true faith” against any other interpretations. The same speeches uttered by Tom’s boss Charlie (Kyle Mitchell) can be heard on any random thread on Reddit’s atheism forum, or from those kids in class who say things just to make their religious classmates tick.

The first act ends, finally, with the appearance of the central character of the whole plot, Satan’s daughter Angie (Kaitlyn Jones). The next act manages to be slightly more original than Act 1, focusing on Angie and how she eventually grows into becoming the vessel for the second coming of the “Old Boy.”

The beginning shows promise, though, through a handful of tragedies and Tom’s attempts to veer Angie to the side of the good. Still, the result is expected and unsubstantial. With the help of Charlie and Tom’s satanic co-workers Natalie (Cameron Barney) and Marcus (Eli Brenna), Angie grows into a high school queen bee who rules by means of terror, psychological extortion and so on. What else would you expect from Lucifer’s little girl?

As the daughter of the dark prince becomes tolerant, kind and bookish, though, the second half of the act returns to the clichés of the first, with nearly the same criticisms of Catholicism and some slight jabs at free will and self-determination. There’s only one truly surprising moment, but that’s about it. It seems there were several missed opportunities; the implications of raising the spawn of Satan would allow for some great comedy. There also could have been more about “Thoughtware,” Charlie’s software that decides your “one true path.”

That isn’t to say the cast and crew deserve fire and brimstone. Mousavi plays Tom to a T, completely capturing the character’s reluctance and ability to be the voice of reason in an insane office. Mitchell’s Charlie is sufficiently loud and happy to be completely unsettling – perfect qualities in a theatrical antagonist.

Kaitlyn Jones’ Angie is the very personification of the “daughter of Satan” – going from a sweet, innocent child to a frightening, domineering adult through the span of eight scenes in an interpretation that can only be described as supreme. Brenna manages to catch Marcus’s Charlie Day-esque energy and delivers the character’s preachy speeches with the perfect mix of anger and humor. Meanwhile, Barney’s interpretation of Natalie as a yea-sayer with a penchant for enforcing superiority rounds out the cast well.

Credit should be given as well to the lighting, sound and set design members, who managed to find the point where the pristine 1950’s office aesthetic meets the unsettling horror of, well, Satan. A special mention goes to the satanic ritual at the end of Act 1 – the dark cloaks, sinister lighting, frightening sounds and the fake beating heart were impressive and a good change of pace from the play’s attempt to be “The Omen” meets “The Office.’”

“Hail Satan!” is visually amazing and has an incredible cast, but the plot is a tad overused. If you’ve watched virtually any infernal parody, you’ll certainly have a good time but will feel like this is trodden ground. If you’re expecting any witty criticism on the foolishness of religion, all you’ll find is a Seth McFarlane-style attempt at joking with it – annoying more than offensive. Go for the actors, visuals and sound, but don’t expect to take much from a plot that you can’t get from your friends watching “Cosmos.”

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