This weekend, Dominique Salerno '10 is directing her thesis production, Steven Dietz's "God's Country" (pictured above). The documentary play is based on the true story of the assassination of Jewish radio talk show host Alan Berg and the white supremacist group - The Order - that carried it out.
Q: For those who aren't familiar with the play, what form does "God's Country" take?
A: It weaves together the three major characters: Alan Berg, who is eventually assassinated, Robert J. Matthews, the leader of the white supremacist group, and Denver Parmenter, the star witness for the prosecution. Parmenter's story is that he reformed from his white supremacist beliefs - or did he? The play is a mixture of a narrative and historical evidence. It uses court transcripts, online rhetoric and just general understood facts.
Q: This production has been a long time in the making. Tell us about your journey from when you first saw the play to directing it on campus.
A: I saw it in high school. It was in a small space, gritty, low budget - and wonderful. And it really hit me; it really told me something. So that stayed in the back of my mind when I came to Princeton. My freshman writing seminar was on documentary theater, so I chose to write about this play because it was in my mind. Then it came time for my junior paper in religion, and I really wanted to break down the religious aspects of the Klan and white supremacy and what actual beliefs make up the movement. So I went back to the play and focused on the Christian identity movement within it. And I got so into it that I thought about producing the play, and here it is. It was more about the play than the directing; it was always about the play.
Q: So the play is more than just a documentary?
A: Absolutely. Some of the play is completely documentary; it comes straight from court transcripts. I'm convinced that other parts of it are dream sequences and representational; it takes facts and elements of the movement and makes them very theatrical. And those parts really stand out. It's challenging as a director to switch from documentary-style theater into these fictional representations of fact.
Q: What was it like to deal with such a taboo subject?
A: I feel that theater is a really good medium for social change, because it has the unique ability to change an audience's perspective live. So they can walk away - in a way different from movies or music - and think, "Wow, that happened to me. I was a part of that, and when I walk around, I'll have that memory." For me, I think that when you first get exposed to the white power movement, you are shocked and appalled and disgusted, and then as you continue to research it, you realize how human these people are and how any person can get sucked into a movement like this. The key is to save the humanity in the characters and not to judge. Hopefully, by the end, it will help you to see these people aren't as different as you think they are; it's the doctrine of hate that you need to be careful of, not the people.
- Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Guy Wood ‘13.
"God's Country" will be performed this Friday and Saturday and next Tuesday through Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Matthews '53 Acting Studio at 185 Nassau Street. Look for Street's review of the play, running online Friday.
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