Sam Shepard's overtly political new play has the same strengths and weaknesses as a punk song. It's an unrefined, passionate indictment of the current neo-conservative administration and a theatrical rallying cry that wants to expose pseudo-patriotic hypocrites. Yet its rushed sense of purpose blunts the poetic and dramatic subtlety that make Shepard's mid-period work Buried Child, Curse of the Starving Class so essential. God of Hellopens in a simple Midwestern farmhouse with a couple more interested in their plants and heifers than politics. The outside world comes rushing in when a fugitive houseguest draws the attention of a man who clearly represents everything Shepard finds reprehensible about America a suit with sadistic tendencies who hides his fascistic jingoism behind a flag. The director and actors do their best with what feels like a promising first draft. The script and the production can't quite commit to naturalism, so the absurdist flights feel unearned and ungrounded (and vice versa). The visceral punch this production is looking for is just around the corner but it never delivers. Shepard has found an authentic voice once again for his righteous political anger, yet it remains to be seen if he'll find the discipline and craft to galvanize his instincts. Frank Wortham
Through Oct. 22 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina & Buchanan, Building D, Third Floor, S.F. Tickets are $26-45; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org.