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Satire at St. Ann’s Warehouse pokes fun at demons & hellfire

The Brooklyn Paper


All the evils in the world are currently housed in St. Ann’s Warehouse, conveniently organized and explained on a walking tour to save you and your friends from eternal damnation.

Lead by a demon tour guide, you walk through the "Hell House," which features rooms depicting social evils and bad decisions. You enter scenes of teenage abortion, a school shooting, gay marriage and more until you are ultimately greeted by Jesus.

As you laugh at the demon’s comments and strange social relativism, you may also feel queasy as you watch a girl’s rape and a student kill his classmates, leaving you to take a step back and ask yourself: this is just a joke, right?

According to research provided by the producers of "Hell House," Les Freres Corbusier, actual hell houses - created by the controversial Rev. Jerry Falwell - began popping up in the U.S. in the 1970s. Evangelical churches in the Midwest and South would put on these performances every October, hoping to show people how the evils in the world will lead them to an eternity in the fiery pits of hell, but with the helpful message that it is not too late to accept Christ into their lives and ultimately be saved.

It wasn’t until 1995, however, that they became more popular. Rev. Keenan Roberts of the Abundant Life Church of Christ in Denver took over and created "The Hell House Outreach Manual." This handy packet provides detailed instructions so anyone can stage a "Hell House." It has everything you need to know, from costumes to recipes on how to make the most convincing blood: "Try mixing white corn syrup with red food coloring."

Although Les Freres Corbusier’s production, directed by Alex Timbers, is more of a satire than an attempt to convert non-believers, much of the text is straight from the manual, and there are some unsettling parts of the show.

You first start to cringe while waiting for your tour to start. You’ll read some of the selected pages from Roberts’s manual, including this tip about the gruesome teen abortion scene: "Do your very best to buy or purchase a meat product that will resemble as much as possible pieces of a baby that are being placed in the glass bowl for all to see. It sounds horrifying; but the more real you can make the meat look, the more powerful the impact will be on every person who goes through."

Les Freres Corbusier is a Manhattan-based theater company that describes its mission as "combining historical revisionism, multimedia excess, found texts, sophomoric humor and rigorous academic research."

The organizers of any given "Hell House" - traditionally a pastor or church group - are allowed permission to modernize some of the scenes so they are more suited to a particular location and its audience.

More of an avant-garde theater group than a band of evangelical Christians, Les Freres Corbusier certainly does this by nailing its portrayal of the young Brooklyn hipster generation. Over lattes, talk of Jon Stewart and a bowl of edamame, the characters of Sam, Rachel and Lance discuss spoofing fundamentalist religion through comedy.

"Wait, wait, wait," says Sam. "Fundamentalist religion and belief systems? You’re talking about weighty, serious issues here. They shouldn’t be treated mockingly. To be honest, guys, I’m kind of over irony."

The three friends pause awkwardly, then burst into laughter. They give each other high-fives right before they are dragged away by some pesky demons.

What level of hell do you think the hipsters will end up on?

To find out, Brooklynites should visit "Hell House" and repent! At the end of the suffering - and after meeting Jesus, of course - you get to celebrate saving your soul with a sing-a-long hoedown. The happy, smiling Christians will give you some juice and a powdered donut, and you will once again be at peace with the world.


Les Freres Corbusier’s "Hell House" runs through Oct. 29 at St. Ann’s Warehouse (38 Water St. at Dock Street in DUMBO). Daily performances start at 7:30 pm with tours of the house starting every 15 minutes. The show is closed on Oct. 23. Tickets are $25. For more information, call (212) 397-2666 or visit www.nychellhouse.com.

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