Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Devil's Disciple

With three degrees in English -- one undergrad and two grad -- I was surprised to find a Shaw play I didn’t know about. Tony Walton directs this strange little play in which Shaw mocks the popular melodramas of his time.

“The Devil’s Disciple” is an early play and quite different from what we expect in later works -- no Super Woman here. Instead we have Judith Anderson (Jenny Fellner), the prissy, sniveling young wife of an older minister. Set during the American Revolution, the play takes aim at self-important religiosity and political conceit.

The best scenes involve Dick Dudgeon, played with charm and rakish swagger by Lorenzo Pisoni, as he gleefully goes about shocking his family and neighbors in that Puritan society.

In his 1900 preface to “Three Plays for Puritans” Shaw wrote of his motivation for writing this play: “At the end of the nineteenth century there was never a play more certain to be written than ‘The Devil’s Disciple.’ The age was visibly pregnant with it. A generation that is thoroughly moralized and patriotized, that conceives virtuous indignation as spiritually nutritious, that murders the murderer and robs the thief, that grovels before all sorts of ideals, social, military, ecclesiastical, royal and divine, may be, from my point of view, steeped in error; but it need not want for as good plays as the hand of man can produce.”

It seems things haven’t changed much, which is why “The Devil’s Disciple” is as timely as ever. It runs at the Irish Rep through Jan. 27.

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