KPBS AIRDATE: June 21, 1995
God bless the Fritz. The gritty, zany, indomitable little company loves to dance along the precipice. Not only were they prescient in scheduling a drama about the white supremacists long before the militia movement took center stage with the April 19 Oklahoma City bombing. But, as usual, they went one step closer to the edge. They invited Tom Metzger to the opening. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Fallbrook resident, grand master of the White Aryan Resistance, actually showed up. It was life imitating art when the TV cameras rolled on Metzger during the intermission of “God’s Country.”
Here is this play of sorts, a kind of information leaflet on the history of the anti-Semitic, pro-Aryan group known as The Order, and there in the audience was the real item. Metzger is even mentioned a few times during the play. In a way, the post-performance discussion was very much like the piece itself. It was downright respectful, gingerly allowing everyone to have his say in a forum of equality. In his quiet, soft-spoken, insidious but seemingly reasonable way, Metzger asserted and maintained his views, saying that “when an open forum isn’t tolerated, violence erupts. As long as I have freedom to say what I want to say, it’s OK. The day that’s closed off, I have no other alternative.” Whew. Scary stuff.
Metzger liked the play; he considered it “important”; he said it was “the future.” The play itself was somewhat less dramatic. It was more informational than theatrical, jumping back and forth in time and place, juxtaposing the evolution of The Order in the Pacific Northwest, with the caustic liberal provocations of Alan Berg, a Denver talk-show host who ultimately was murdered by Order members.
Using court transcripts, excerpts from racist documents such as the influential “Turner Diaries,” and fictional as well as real characters, playwright Stephen Dietz, in 1988, created a non-judgmental polemic that shows us how ”racial pride” can lead to organized, systematic hate and violence.
Berg’s is the only dissenting voice, and his is a strident one, though, in the hands of Charlie Riendeau, much less strident than he’s purported to have been. Dan Gruber is chilling as Denver Parmenter, the high-ranking, ambivalent Order member who names names and tells all in a plea bargain. Rick Stevens, who ably plays a number of roles, gets one of the few touching moments in the piece, a monologue about a son who took to heart his father’s casual suggestions to “Jew this guy down” and “don’t be anybody’s nigger.” Now the son is “putting things in his basement”: weapons, explosives, maps of a white homeland. The father is incredulous, and crushed. Several strong characterizations, and the play’s only humor, are contributed by Bill Barstad, as a frightened farmer and a hayseed fascist.
Despite a potent and hard-working cast of twelve, director Tavis Ross has allowed some things to go over the top, and in being, production as he was at the discussion, so solicitous of the subject, he’s missed some of the seething, horrifying undertone. The onstage evening made me feel informed; the opening night offstage events made me feel afraid.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.