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Paulanne Simmons

"The Devil's Disciple"

The Devil's Disciple -- Lorenzo Pisoni and Cristin Milioti. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

"The Devil's Disciple"
Directed by Tony Walton
The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Opened Dec. 13, 2007
Wed. thru Sat. 8 p.m., matinees on Wed., Sat. and Sun. 3 p.m.
$60 and $55 (212) 727-2737
Closes Jan. 27, 2008
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Dec. 14, 2007

George Bernard Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple," presents us with three intriguing men: Anthony Anderson, a preacher doing God's work; Dick Dudgeon, the elder son in a Puritan family, who considers himself a renegade, a disciple of the devil; and General Burgoyne, a cynical and pragmatic military man.

The three roles demand actors with considerable wit and depth. Fortunately, director Tony Walton has three such actors in The Irish Repertory Theatre's production of Shaw's classic work: Curzon Dobell (Anthony Anderson), Lorenzo Pisoni (Dick Dudgeon) and John Windsor-Cunningham (General Burgoyne).

"The Devil's Disciple" is set in New Hampshire during the American Revolution. Dick and Anthony are among the town patriots. While Dick is at the Anderson's home, alone with the preacher's wife, Judith (the sweet but not saccharine Jenny Fellner), waiting for the preacher to return from a deathbed visit to Dick's mother, British soldiers arrive.

The soldiers mistake Dick for Anthony, and Dick allows himself to be arrested in the preacher's place. When Anthony returns, much to his wife's surprise, he makes no attempt to save Dick, but rather arms himself, has a horse saddled and makes a run for it.

The wry Burgoyne presides over the second-act trial, wearily recognizing that duty must prevail over sentiment. When Dick tells Burgoyne that he is hanging him because he is paid to do so, Burgoyne replies, "Ah, I am really sorry that you should think that, Mr. Dudgeon. If you knew what my commission cost me, and what my pay is, you would think better of me. I should be glad to part from you on friendly terms."

Dick is prepared to die for the cause, although he believes he has behaved like a fool. Judith is beside herself. To her, Dick is a hero. The audience awaits the deus ex machina that will save Dick.

The first New York production of "The Devil's Disciple" 110 years ago was staged with 33 featured cast members, complete with New Hampshire townsfolk, a large company of soldiers and an impressive military band. Walton has pared down the cast to a total of nine actors (three of whom double) plus two non-speaking guards.

Although no one today know exactly how that first production worked out, Walton's production certainly has great dramatic power, a touch of humor, some irony and considerable emotion. Walton and associate set designer Heather Wolensky have created a set that is realistic but minimal. Wigs and period costumes are true to colonial times.

The supporting cast in "The Devil's Disciple" is extremely effective, particularly Darcy Pulliam, who plays Dick's miserable, self-righteous mother; and Craig Pattison, who plays Christy, Dick's submissive and nitwit younger brother.

Anthony, Dick and Burgoyne each represent different ways of dealing with crises, which they do sometimes in ways that surprise even themselves. "It is in the hour of trial a man finds his true profession," says Anthony. "This foolish young man boasted himself the Devil's Disciple; but when the hour of trial came to him, he found that it was his destiny to suffer and be faithful to the death. I thought myself a decent minister of the gospel of peace; but when the hour of trial came to me, I found that it was my destiny to be a man of action, and that my place was amid the thunder of the captains and the shouting."

Over a hundred years ago, Shaw was asking the same questions about character and morality that we struggle with today. Which is why plays like "The Devil's Disciple" never grow old, especially when they continue to be revived by company's as capable as The Irish Repertory Theatre.


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