Satan vs God is a conversation between Satan and God. Satan is our on screen perspective and God is an unseen voice from the sky (both played/voiced by Deaon Griffin-Pressley). Satan pleads to be let back into heaven and God says yeah…nah. Satan employs many tactics to try and convince “King God” including flattery, guilt-tripping, and, of course, offering to kill off humanity and save his son a job. I think this is an interesting premise and potentially gives a platform to unpack the grey space between good and evil, and reflect on humanity’s sense of right and wrong in a modern context.
I get the sense that Satan vs God carries some social interest in conservative, Christain communities where God’s word is unchallenged gospel. The show gives Satan the leading perspective and pleads his case while challenging God’s impact on earth. For those who’ve never questioned their faith, this show is bound to spark conversations and self-reflection. Unfortunately this is NZ Fringe and therefore this is likely a very small minority of the audience. Only about a third of Wellington’s Population identify as Christian (according to Statistics New Zealand census data, 2018) and by virtue of being a minority those who do have likely had these conversations before. So what does the show bring to its audience here in Wellywood?
There are hints of an answer to this question. Satan gets mad and references distracting humans for the goodness of God by challenging them with natural disasters, filling the world with hateful speech and lies. There’s good fodder here to engage with the moral quandaries around climate change, misinformation, and hate speech. These are contemporary, existential issues and would make for a fascinating show. Sadly, they are given a brief mention and then forgotten. Writer and performer Griffin-Pressley fails to use their framing to examine humanity in any depth, or to provide thematic meat for an audience to get our teeth into. The content is mostly fuelled by age-old religious platitudes about what is good and evil and sticks to a fairly straight-forward binary. I’ve heard it all before (in my religious education as a child) and the show does not ask questions of these assumptions or their application to the 2022 world. I am left wondering why this show, here and now?
There is also some straight-up problematic content to grapple with. Satan describes the sins of humanity throughout the show and bluntly uses suicide and sex work as examples of humans who turn away from God. Now, I don’t mean to push the boat out here but mental health is not a sin, and sex work is not a function of “dignity [being] dead”. (Pretty bold, I know!) Some may argue that this Satan “being the bad guy”, but he is not punished or called out on this stance, and we are largely expected to sympathise with his perspective and question God’s rather than the other way around. This kind of toxic shaming of human wellbeing and legitimate, dignified work respectively doesn’t belong at NZ Fringe 2022. This, along with a lack of thematic interrogation, is why Satan vs God gets a firm “yeah…nah” from me.
What I will say for the production is that it has been well adapted to film (cinematography and filming by Andre Russel). It seems to me that the script is written for a traditional solo theatre show format. The digitalisation of it keeps chunks of monologues in mid-shot as the centre-piece of the show, but overlays other imagery, music, and occasionally cuts away to palette-cleansing segments like The Lord’s Prayer and Satan’s re-written Ten Commandments. This all keeps the theatricality of the performance, while also making use of its digital platform and is on the whole a successful reworking to the online environment.
Griffin-Pressley is also an animated performer with a genuinely luscious voice, both in speech and in song. They clearly possess plenty of talent. I urge them to push their thematic exploration further and to get to know their international audience before sending digital work overseas.
Satan vs God is available for online viewing until March 20th. Digital passes are available through Fringe.