Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Theater review: Pantagleize Theatre’s pulls off an ambitious production of Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple
They tackle the ambitious script with commendable scene design and above-par acting.
FORT WORTH George Bernard Shaw (26 July, 1856 – 2 November, 1950) was an Irish playwright. He is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize in Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938) for his contributions to literature and his work on the film Pygmalion, which was an adaptation of his play of the same name. His first significant financial success as a playwright came from Richard Mansfield’s American production of The Devil’s Disciple in 1897. He went on to write sixty three plays, most of them full-length. Shaw made it a forum for considering moral, political and economic issues. This is shown very clearly in The Devil’s Disciple, which runs at Pantagleize Theatre through February 3.
Written in 1897, The Devil’s Disciple was Shaw’s first successful play and helped cement his reputation as a respectable playwright. The story revolves around Richard “Dick” Dudgeon, the eldest son, considered the “Black Sheep” of the family. Richard rebels against his puritanical upbringing, and anything else that he considers unreasonable, often referring to himself as The Devil’s Disciple.
The story is set near the end of the American Revolution. Through a mistaken identity and Shaw’s fondness of paradox, Shaw examines morality and what is really “good or bad” in human character and society.
Shaw is not an easy playwright to tackle. Like most of his plays, The Devil’s Disciple presents conflicts in society that are often thought provoking and at times controversial. The characters in his plays often have multiple layers in their thoughts and actions. The director, the cast and crew at the Pantagleize Theatre attacked this difficult story with gusto and succeeded in many areas.
David Hance designed a very effective set that made complete use of the L shaped space in the performing area. By creatively using all of the space available, including all of the entrances and exits, he created very believable settings for the homes of the minister, the Dudgeons, a jail, a courtroom and the public square. Each different setting was created by the strategic use of various pieces of stage furniture that were moved on and off stage during the performance. By using primarily furniture and set pieces that were in shades of brown and black, with a few exceptions such as the white porcelain peacocks, Hance believably brought the audience into the Puritanical world in the 1770s.
Also successful was the costuming by Bob Taylor (no relation to the critic). Taylor’s use of the styles and fabrics that were common during the late 1770’s was to be commended. As with Hance, Taylor’s use of drab colors for all but the British military helped to enhance the cultural differences between the Colonists and the British. Exceptions to the shades of grey, brown and black used included the elegantly styled gown and hat worn by Mary Jane Greer in her initial scene and the costume worn by Sara Blair as Essie. In each case, the colors choices, while different, were in keeping with the styles of the time and social status. The uniforms worn by the British soldiers were very detailed and impressive.
Having previously seen several of the actors that perform in this production in other productions in the DFW area, I was curious how they would work together as an ensemble tackling the intricacies of Shaw.
I was not disappointed. Rodriguez continued to show that he has an understanding of the conflicts that face the characters he portrays. In The Devil’s Disciple, Rodriguez portrays Reverend Anthony Anderson. Reverend Anderson is a civic leader in the community as well as the spiritual leader. There are many layers to Anderson that include human frailties and strengths. Rodriguez had no hesitation allowing the audience to see each of these layers - tender when interacting with his wife, or more intensely when dealing with morality and situations involving convictions.
I was looking forward to seeing what skills she could bring to a dramatic role. Greer clearly showed she has the skills to present a very believable character as Judith Anderson. Greer. She demonstrated or I should say, she ”felt” emotions, challenges, and conflicts that developed through the personal conflicts and social inequities in the story. Her initial scene introduced us to a character that could be forceful or demur as the situation warranted. Anderson is faced with the role expected of a wife and woman in the 1770s. Greer shares genuine emotion in each conflict and situation.
By looking at the credits in the playbill, Sara Blair, as Essie, is relatively new to the DFW theatre scene. However, based on the performance that I saw, I would expect to soon be seeing her in other shows in the DFW area, soon. For being a fairly young performer, Blair presented a very clear, consistent and believable character that was always engaged in any scene in which she was a part, whether it was as a lead in the scene or as part of the background. Blair brought a very talented energy, with or without lines, to any scene that she was in.
In his initial scene, Cameron Modrich, as Richard “Dick” Dudgeon, brought a physical and vocal energy that elevated the scene to a higher level. Modrich very skillfully used movement, vocal and emotional modulation to establish his presence in the story.
In this scene, Dudgeon alternately insults and praises various other characters in the story and effectively establishes his place in the family and social hierarchy. In each scene in which he was present, and there are many, Modrich used effective variations of playfulness, intensity and defiance to keep Dick Dudgeon interesting and relevant.
This production includes a large cast with a wide variety of talent and skills. The way that the show is written, several characters are present on stage with few, if any, lines while a few of the actors seem to have the majority of the lines. The evening that I viewed the performance, several of the actors were visibly fighting, or trying to fight, whatever illness, cold or flu that is going around. Having performed on stage while ill, I fully realize how this can cause an energy drain, possible confusion on blocking, timing and delivery of lines. I offer kudos to the actors as they presented this performance.
This production of The Devil’s Disciple is very worth seeing for the scene design, commendable costuming and some very, very good acting by several of the performers. Take the time to find The Pantaglieze Theatre for an ambitious presentation from the playwright that also wrote Pygmalion and Arms and The Man.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column