Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The History of the Devil
A mix of courtroom drama and fantasy-filled flashbacks, The History of the Devil focuses on the Devil who is put on trial to determine if he stays in Hell or can return to Heaven. The Devil feels he is the one who has suffered and been persecuted and he just wants to go back home. So he finds a lawyer to defend him while the prosecutor pulls out whatever she can to prove his evil ways, even calling Jesus Christ as a witness. In the flashbacks we see how the naïve Lucifer fell to Earth, wingless and confused, and we follow his journey over the centuries and across the continents as he interacts with multiple people and basically helps conspire their doom. But, is he truly the catalyst for evil or an innocent person who just happens to be a conduit to speed a person's inevitable, and almost horrible, end along? This is most effectively shown in the encounter that Lucifer has with Jesus Christ in which Jesus, knowing that he will die, asks for suggestions on the best way to make it happen. The Devil offers his advice but never actually participates in what transpires. Barker has crafted an intriguing play that allows you to see the good and bad sides of an individual, even Satan, and the way he shows the love that the Devil has for his followers and their devotion to him does start to make one wonder just how guilty Lucifer truly is.
Nearly Naked Artistic Director Damon Dering has assembled a cast that throws themselves into their parts with sheer commitment. David Nelson is a perfect combination of charisma, seduction, manipulation, and pure sex appeal as Lucifer. His muscular body and height make him a force to be reckoned with as he towers over everyone else in the cast. Yet Nelson also brings a strong sense of devotion and love for many of the characters in the play, which shows how much he truly cares for them, yet he also demonstrates Lucifer's conflicted nature. It is a powerful and strong performance. Tracy Payne Black portrays the main prosecutor, a strong-willed and dominant woman with a strong determination to bring Lucifer down, yet she also plays a few lighter and more frightened characters with equally clear determination. At one point in the show she plays two characters at once, with two distinct voices and personalities. Payne Black is exceptional in all of these parts.
While everyone in the cast is quite good, most impressive is Andy Cahoon as the narrator, who serves an important role in the fascination many have with the Devil. Cahoon's constant looks of devotion and wonder toward Lucifer are matched by his superb portrayal of Christ. Also, Vanessa Kiernan is excellent as a non-stop parade of varying characters, some of whom love Lucifer, while others hate him. Kiernan is stunning and effective in each of these roles, especially as a human who only wishes to fly with the Devil, and is heartbroken when things don't go as planned.
Dering's staging is clear and direct, with seamless transitions from the courtroom to the flashbacks, and he has expertly directed the cast to inhabit their multiple roles with clarity. While Dering's use of a fair amount of nudity in the show might seem extreme, I found it perfectly exhibits the heightened sense of fear, uncertainty, and confusion that one imagines being nude in the world brings. While Eric Beeck's set design isn't overly elaborate, the use of large white fabric panels and a multi-level black covered set, which also includes several areas beneath the stage, invokes a dream-like, other world setting with the use of black and white a nice representation of good and evil. Jay Templeton and Ralph Roberts provide several mask designs for the actors to use to morph into the various characters, and Doug Loynd's costumes and Jeff Davis' lighting design are quite effective.
The length of the play may put some people off, as well as the fact that there are some confusing parts; for example, why is the trial set in Africa? The heat of the country is a nice allusion to the heat of Hades, but beyond that there is no clear explanation for the setting. The same goes for why the prosecutor is a lesbian and her girlfriend is her right hand or why certain flashbacks get more stage time than others. It's as if Barker threw several things into the play but never followed through on their significance. However, the play is still a thought-provoking piece, full of humor, horror, and obscene moments. Nearly Naked Theatre's production has an exceptional cast, led by David Nelson's moving performance of Lucifer, clear direction, and fantasy-inspired creative elements. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it definitely will make you wonder about the balance of good and evil in the world.
The History of the Devil runs through April 25th, 2015, with performances at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Little Theatre at 100 E. McDowell in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling (602) 254-2151 or at nearlynakedtheatre.org
Director: Damon Dering