The Devil you don't know....

The History of the Devil ... or Scenes from a Pretended Life

By Clive Barker
Directed by Justin John Costello
The Oblivion Theatre Company
Quinn StudioTheatre
113 West 60th Street (636-7033)
Non-union production (closes June 10)
Review by Sheila Mart

The History of the Devil, one of English playwright Clive Barker's early efforts, is best-described as a symbolic allegory of the human condition, rather than a play. The subtitle succinctly implies and delivers fantasy, laced with black humor; and like most fantasies (e.g. classic fairytales) is interwoven with strong elements of human behavior. An Actor (Brian Voyles), performing as narrator, opens the piece in a slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion preparing us for an expose of the different forms the Devil (Matthew E. Benson) uses from the beginning of recorded history to post-World War II. As a way of condemning the interactions of the Devil with humans in each era, the author decides to put the Devil on trial. A kangaroo court is set up with the legal personnel - prosecutors, judge, and defense attorney Sam Kyle (John Jordan), frequently referred to as the Devil's advocate. Throughout this trial, various facets of the legal profession and its trial tactics are subtly satirized.

The play could have been tightened by at least half-an-hour. For instance, it seemed superfluous to have each witness's testimony acted out in flashback. The Devil's sole defense is that he is innocent of any wrongdoing - he is accused of many forms of torture and murder - and simply wishes to be accepted back into Heaven, where he claims he was once an angel. The Devil's exoneration or lack of it should be left to audience interpretation; had the author written this later in life, it probably would have been. Still, Justin John Costello and his talented group of 11 actors playing 31 different roles must be highly commended for meeting the challenge of this complicated and flawed play.

Matthew E. Benson (The Devil), Christopher Horn, Micah Bucey, Emily Grace, Gretchen S. Hall, John Jordan, Jonni Garro, and Lisette Espaillat - especially Benson - mostly gave consummate performances, although there needed to be some work done on voice production in terms of modulation (there was too much shouting) and especially accents, the latter being more noticeable in Jordan's performance. The old adage, "do an accent well, or not at all," certainly applies here. Ryan Blackwell and Keith Chambers acquitted themselves with the material they had.

Costello deserves high praise for smoothly directing such a difficult piece in a confining space - at times he must have felt like a traffic cop.

The stark set from designer J. Michael was just right, as was the imaginative lighting of Jeffrey Cusick. The costumes (uncredited), mostly in various shades of black, were adequate. The music and sound (also uncredited) contributed perfectly to the production.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 1999 Sheila Mart