Mind the Flames: Cautionary Theatre Event, Hell House, Gets Brooklyn Run

News   Mind the Flames: Cautionary Theatre Event, Hell House, Gets Brooklyn Run What's thought to be the first New York City area presentation of a "hell house" — the gorily didactic theatre phenomenon started by Christian Evangelicals around the nation — opens for business Oct. 1 in Brooklyn.

The staging, based on text created by Christians who want to show the wages of sin and the path of good living, is presented by Arts at St. Ann's and the irreverent troupe Les Freres Corbusier in Brooklyn starting Oct. 1.

Appropriately titled Hell House, the theatrical event will mirror the interactive "haunted house"-style events in which participants witness various live dioramas that depict punishments for such "evils" as homosexuality, promiscuity and abortion.

Arts at St. Ann's presents the Les Freres Corbusier production of Hell House, with content provided by Denver area Pastor Keenan Roberts, whose text is licensed around the country. Alex Timbers directs. Performances begin Oct. 1 at 7:30 PM, at St. Ann's Warehouse, 38 Water Street, Dumbo, Brooklyn. The opening night is Oct. 10.

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"From the creators of the Obie Award-winning A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant and last season's Heddatron comes Hell House — a nearly exact re-creation of the thousands of hell houses staged by Christian Evangelicals in communities across America during the Halloween season," according to the Les Freres gang. "First staged by Jerry Falwell in the 1970s, hell houses take a traditional haunted house's ghosts and ghouls and substitute teenage cheerleaders getting abortions, gay men dying of AIDS, and children reading 'Harry Potter' and then being damned to hell." Billed as "a multi-room theatrical experience that is part installation art, part play, and part haunted house, Les Freres Corbusier's Hell House transforms St. Ann's 14,000-square-feet of raw space and seating risers into a dozen 'rooms' of performance featuring a company of nearly 100 actors, designers, and technicians.

The production ends in a "giant Evangelical rock hoedown," replete with white powdered donuts and a lively game of "Pin the Sin on Jesus."

According to production notes, "In 1993, Pastor Roberts staged the first hell house of his own. In 1996 he began to sell 'Hell House Outreach' kits to other churches. These kits include a 263-page manual, covering everything from casting to publicity to instructions for making a prop fetus out of hamburger meat."

The Les Freres Corbusier production of Hell House is presented strictly according to guidelines of the Hell House Outreach kits distributed by Pastor Roberts.

In the metropolitan Denver area, 50,000 people have seen Roberts' hell houses since 1995, and his how-to kits have been sold to churches in every state and in 20 foreign countries. Since 1996 approximately 3,000 hell houses have operated across the country, according to Les Freres Corbusier.

"While a hell house is a foreign world to the secular liberals on America's coasts, it is the Evangelicals' sincere response to what they see as a daily assault on their basic values and the production hopes to address the lack of communication between two sizable populations in America, which finds practical expression in everything from Wal-Mart's product selection to the results of national elections," stated Les Freres Corbusier executive director Aaron Lemon-Strauss.

Les Freres Corbusier is known for its topically relevant, comically avant-garde theatrical creations. Its A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant transferred Off-Broadway, won an Obie Award, and spawned a cast album on Sh-K-Boom Records. Boozy — an irreverent exploration of urban planning — also transferred Off-Broadway, was named one of the top 10 shows of 2005 by both the New York Daily News and Time Out New York, and the script was published by Theater Magazine (Yale School of Drama/Duke University Press).

Despite its name, Les Freres Corbusier is not, in fact, French.

Arts at St. Ann's has commissioned, produced and presented a unique and eclectic range of innovative theatre and special concerts for over 25 years. Since 2001, the organization has helped vitalize the emerging Brooklyn neighborhood, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), where St. Ann's Warehouse, at 38 Water, has become one of New York City's most important and compelling live performance venues.

Hell House director Alex Timbers is artistic director of Les Freres Corbusier and directs all of the company's works. He is the recipient of Obie and Backstage West Garland Awards.

Pastor Keenan Roberts is the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in suburban Denver, specifically Thornton, Colorado. He has directed numerous theatrical and musical productions since 1992. His experience as a writer and director—ranging from illustrated sermons to large-scale seasonal outreach events—"serves NDCC and its strategy for utilizing drama as an effective tool to aggressively communicate with people."

The scenic design for Hell House is by Garin Marschall; the costume design is by Sidney Shannon; the lighting design is by Tyler Micoleau; and the sound design is by Bart Fasbender.

Hell House performs Tuesday through Sunday, with 10 tours every night. Tours begin every 15 minutes from 7:30 PM to 9:45 PM. There are special Monday performances on Oct. 2 and Oct. 9 and no performances on Tuesday Oct. 3 and Wednesday Oct. 11.

Hell House runs through Oct. 29. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at ticketweb.com or by phoning the St. Ann's Warehouse box office at (718) 254-8779.

For more information about Hell House, visit www.nychellhouse.com, www.lesfreres.org, or www.stannswarehouse.org.