History of The Devil

By Clive Barker
Directed by John Hetzel
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Just how much of the evil and tragedy in human history is really the fault of the Devil, if such an entity exists? That’s the question posed by the intriguing new production of Clive Barker’s History of the Devil at the Alley Theater. And the answer is, there are no easy answers.
Told in a series of vignettes that span from the dawn of time to the present, the story’s framework owes more than a little to Stephen Vincent Benét’s The Devil and Daniel Webster. It seems old Scratch (J.P. Lebangood) is up for parole from his exile on Earth and must go to trial to try and be admitted back into Heaven. For mysterious reasons, he chooses an unqualified British attorney (Patrick Vaughn) to defend him and goes to a barren plain in Kenya for his day in court.

As both defense and prosecution witnesses, living and dead, take the stand, stories of Satan’s hits and misses from the moment he was first cast out of Heaven and spanning the millennia to the present are laid out before us in stark detail.

It is a fascinating story, with an ending that may surprise you. And while not as grotesque as horror author Barker’s usual fare, those familiar with his work will notice a lot of nods to some of his more familiar output. Director Hetzel has done a remarkable job of staging this larger-than-life piece in the limited confines of the Alley’s small space, and has coaxed some very strong performances from his cast.

Lebangood brings an amazing degree of sympathy and pathos to his role as The Devil Incarnate, while never losing the character’s inherent menace. But in this piece, it is the smaller roles that really leave an impression, allowing some really strong work by Joey Arena as a stiff-upper-lip Duke of York, Lance Flint as an ill-fated Greek nobleman, Christopher Folan as a doomed errand boy, and Kenn Parks as a hip Jesus Christ, among others.

High marks also go to Rebecca Trout’s spot-on costumes covering a wide range of historical periods, and Kenn Parks’ simple but effective set. The smoke effects and lighting design also add great atmosphere to the proceedings.

On the downside, the show does run very long; it seemed to make its points early and did not need to run a full three hours. Although it is a British play, only two of the actors attempted a British accent, serving only to call attention to the rest of the actors who did not. And I didn’t quite get the point of an obviously female character who was always referred to in pronoun as he or him. But if you can get past those quibbles, it really is a fascinating production.

If you enjoy a bit of philosophical head scratching in your theater-going, this is a show not to be missed.

Starring Joey Arena, Jenna Bain, Lance Flint, Christopher Folan, Deanna Joy Gillispie, Debbie Hess, Emma Johnson, J.P. Lebangood, Kenn Parks, Chris Petty, Melissa Riddle, Ray Robinson, Jamie Shannon, Ontonio Smith, Christie Troxell, and Patrick Vaughn.
History of the Devil

March 7-23, 2013
The Alley Theater
1205 Franklin Street
Louisville, KY 40206