We love to see the Devil on stage because – let’s be honest – he’s the character who is most like us. When he shows up in our stories, it is always with a wounded sense of entitlement. He has a contract, signed – in blood – by some hapless sap with poor impulse control. Moreover, he got a raw deal from God. His only failing – if it could be called that – is that he loved God too much; failing to follow God’s command to bow down and serve man. So it is with us; we have done no wrong, but have been brought low, by forces beyond our control.
Satan is a familiar figure in scriptures, but there is no origin story – 1 Timothy 3:6 mentions that pride caused Satan’s downfall, but it might have caused anyone’s. It was Milton’s genius to make him a unique and powerful angel prior to the fall, and it is the genius of Marcus Kyd and Taffety Punk to make him, angel and devil, palpable and real to us.
Kyd begins with a farrago of stories about Lucifer the Bargainer, in which the Prince of Darkness collects souls as his just due. This is not, incidentally, simply a Christian protocol; one of the best tales – emphasizing how important evil is to give mankind something to overcome, a recurrent theme – is set in Arabia, among Moslems. They are all wonderful stories, especially the astonishingly meta tale Max Beerbohm wrote in the early part of the last century about a poet who sells his soul in order to go a hundred years into the future and see what his reputation has become. Go see The Devil in his Own Words to find out what he discovered, and then check out the amazing follow-up the magician Teller did.
But Kyd is after bigger game than that. His Satan is an angel who could not take his eyes off God, and so was punished by never being allowed to see God again. He is the CEO of Hell, instructing his minions on the best way to bring humans low while giving some tough love to Puck, who seeks to become an apprentice devil. He is a stand-up comic with a taste for improvisation (after a riff on Scotland, he says “good luck tomorrow, motherfuckers.”) He is a sad and lonely entity, periodically banging on the gravestone of his old friend Cain, who pops up in the form of a paper doll (throughout, humans appear as mannequins or naked dolls or as nothing at all) to share his fear that he will never see God again. He is the self-proclaimed mentor to Jesus, who has ruled the world of the Old Testament and now wishes to yield it to Jesus as the two of them sit in the scorching desert.
THE DEVIL IN HIS OWN WORDS
Closes October 4, 2014
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
545 7th Street, SE Washington
1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
How good is Kyd in this? He moves seamlessly from classical to modern texts without breaking character. If we have a classical text (much, but not all, of The Devil in his Own Words is extracted from literature) he declaims in the classical style; not broadly, but in a recognizable tradition; if the text moves to something more modern, Kyd becomes contemporary – but not for a moment do we lose who he’s being. He is Satan’s Satan, as true to himself in the first century as he is in the twentieth, and as he will be in the fiftieth.
He seems to meander around the stage, but his perambulations are purposeful: when he stops, it is almost always next to a convenient prop, which he then turns into a microphone, or a bowling ball, or a poor hapless human.
And finally, there is a moment in which he revisits tortures at Salem – and he could have as profitably attended a beheading or a waterboarding – which makes Satan seem Saintly, and you and me and also God seem unholy. If you are prepared to have yourself called to account by the Prince of Darkness – and you should be – this is the show to see.
You can obtain the Devil’s favors at the cost of your own soul. Watching the Devil do his work at the Capital Hill Arts Center, as I strongly recommend, costs only $15, though.
The Devil in His Own Words . Adapted and performed by Marcus Kyd. Directed by Lise Bruneau . Set design: Jenn Sheetz and Kathleen Chadwick . Props design: Jenn Sheetz Sheetz; Lighting design: Chris Curtis . Costume design:, Scott Hammar . Scenic manifestation: Daniel Flint .Produced by Taffety Punk. Reviewed by Tim Treanor.
Chris Klimek . City Paper Kyd’s Satan never seems to tire of his partners’ realization that their deal with him won’t turn out like they wanted.
Celia Wren . Washington Post lively and sometimes moving
Anna Brinley . MdTheatreGuide Wonderfully verbose and darkly engaging
Sophia Howe . DCMetroTheaterArts There is no end of fun to be had in writing about the Devil, and Marcus Kyd finds it all.
Pamela Roberts . BroadwayWorld the pieces contrast vividly in tone, pace and intensity, highlighting Kyd’s artistic range and strength.[/ezcol_3quarter_end]