“The Devils” is set in the Ukraine on the eve of a national strike in the 1870s. A group of unorganized rebels, who lack firm leadership, spend most of the time quarreling over a political agenda and plotting the assassination of a local government official. All the while, the actors struggle to bring credence and cohesion to the characters and the convoluted narrative.
The group’s reluctant leader is Nicholas, a brooding and tiresome aristocrat who steals money from his mother to finance the sedition, stalks about like Count Dracula and is often inaudibly acted by Bill Camp. When hostile he is given to the severe biting of ears and noses of those who anger him. Eventually a dark secret is revealed, but the denouement telegraphs itself early on and the theatrical impact is muted.
Ivan, frenetically played by Christopher McCann, is the group’s neurotic resident artist, who makes posters but hides his printing press until his colleagues fund his journey out of the country. His estranged wife, Marie (Patrice Johnson), impregnated by another man, returns from Switzerland for shelter and to give birth to her son. There is an obtuse hired assassin (James Colby), an aged professor (Frank Raiter) haunted by an elusive suggestion of past sexual misconduct, a bumbling governor (Michael Arkin) on the brink of insanity, and the governor’s badgering wife (Randy Danson), herself the ultimate victim of a botched assassination. “It’s the drink! The drink!” she gasps, as she echoes Hamlet’s mother and dies at the Governor’s Ball.
Kali Rocha makes the most of Dasha, the printer’s sister who manages to escape the turbulence and ends up basking in the sun somewhere, but Denis O’Hare is tentative and indifferent as the leader’s successor. There are simply too many characters, too much repetition, and several unnecessary scenes (including the entire birth process of Marie’s child).
Designer Douglas Stein delivers a massive double-tier set of rooms, stairways and over a dozen doors, all tightly governed by a striking lighting design, giving the physical production a resonance the text lacks.