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The Devil's Disciple
The self-described "upstart son of a downstart," Shaw has also been labeled (as he has himself once said of Oscar Wilde) "the world's most thorough playwright." To be sure, the "upstart," delighted himself by toying with every social, political, moral and ethical rebellion from here to Methuselah and back. In his most rebellious mood with The Devil's Disciple , he cleverly probed into the ceremoniously veiled presumptions about Godliness and deviltry.
Is it less than Godliness when the irreverent and incorrigible Dick Dudgeon, the black sheep of the family (according to the conventional community standards of Websterbridge, N.J. in 1777), not only takes an orphan under his wing but also takes the place of the purposefully dedicated Parson Anderson at the foot of the gallows? And what are we to make of the parson's quick decision to sell his Bibles in order to buy pistols so he, with the help of a neighboring band of patriots, can surround Burgoyne's army and affect Dick's release?
The Devil's Disciple is full of tantalizing questions and startling discoveries about people who may indeed be more or less than the labels society has affixed to them. This mildly spicy and winningly short melodrama has been appointed to a commendable, comically inclined company of actors whose delight it is to make every minute invigorating and fun. Act 1 is dominated by a vigorously disarming James Knight, as "Dick" Dudgeon a smuggler who lives with Gypsies and is branded as "wicked, dissolute, godless."
With the Act 2 arrival of the Edmund Genest's pretentiously authoritative "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne, the company thrusts itself with comedic aplomb wholeheartedly into the philosophically endowed havoc. Genest, who is celebrating his nineteenth season with the Shakespeare Theatre, drolly delivers Burgoyne's best line, when he proclaims the solemnity of the occasion with "Martyrdom, sir, is what these people like. It is the only way a man can become famous without ability."
As it is true about Shakespeare, Shaw remains relevant. When Parson Anderson asks Burgoyne: "Have you realized that though you may occupy towns and win battles, you cannot conquer a nation?" it is a chilling reminder of how Americans have ironically assumed a role similar to the one the British once had on foreign soil.
Directed with unhurried confidence by Paul Mullins, Shaw's slight but stingingly irreverent comedy remains a remarkably buoyant and relevant exposure of the puritanical. Making a delightfully conflicted spectacle of herself as the parson's wife who can't get that "blasphemous," rogue Dick out of her mind, Elizabeth Davis is a wide-eyed delight. Knight and Davis give their unwittingly intimate scenes just the right touch of don't-touch-me- but-I'm-yours-if-you-want-me.
Giving us only subtle clues to his character's guarded patriotism, Paul Niebanck is splendid as the Clark Kent into super "man of action" parson. There is plenty to laugh at in Conor Carew's goofy portrayal of Dick's brother, the intellectually challenged Christy Dudgeon, as well as in the hypocritical piety of the Widow Dudgeon, as portrayed with sanctimonious rigidity by Cynthia Mace. Orphan Essie's insecurity is sweetly captured by Katie Willmorth. Matt Sullivan is as convincing as Uncle Titus Dudgeon, as he is also playing the incompetent and insipid Major Swindon.
The play's four locations — the Dudgeon dwelling, the minister's home, British headquarters and the gallows yard — are cleverly adapted within the single unit and effectively raised wooden setting designed by Brittany Vasta. This made for an unobstructed view of all the action. The original New York production in 1897 boasted thirty-three featured players among the one hundred that trod the stage, including soldiers and a military band.
More modestly staged here in 2014 with a cast of thirteen, there was, nevertheless, ample spectacle in the sight of the colorfully uniformed British soldiers harassing members of the audience even as they paraded up and down the aisles. As this served as my eleven year old grandson's introduction to Shaw, I am pleased to say that he gave it his patriotic approval.
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company