The Devils

From the pages of Dostoevsky, Elizabeth Egloff has fashioned an unwieldy and overlong drama of political intrigue and unrest in "The Devils." A relentless gloom prevails, broken on occasion by a broadly farcical moment that seems oddly out of place. The acting runs from uncomfortably awkward to effectively honest. Despite the play's length (over three and a half hours), director Garland Wright has managed to orchestrate the many scenes in a fluent manner, and the action, for the most part, proceeds on course. Still, with its abundance of gunfire, murder, suicide, firing squads, poisoned champagne, some square-in-the-face spitting, and at least four accounts of vicious human bites, this is a very busy play and none too precise.

With:
Nathalie Paulding (Matryosha), Bill Camp (Nicholas Stavrogin), Boris McGiver (Shigalyov), Frank Raiter (Stepan Verkhovensky), Ray Anthony Thomas (Virginsky), Patrick Kerr (Liputin), Christopher McCann (Ivan Shatov), Denis O'Hare (Peter Verkhovensky), Kali Rocha (Dasha Shatov), James Colby (Kirilov), Lynn Cohen (Mrs. Stavrogin), Randy Danson (Mrs. Lembke), Daniel Oreskes (Josef Blum), Michael Arkin (Governor Lembke), Patrice Johnson (Marie Shatov).

“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.

The Devils

Opened May 21, 1997, at the New York Theater Workshop. Reviewed May 20; 130 seats; $30 top

Production: NEW YORK A New York Theater Workshop presentation of a play in three acts by Elizabeth Egloff, inspired by Dostoevsky's novel. Directed by Garland Wright

Creative: Set, Douglas Stein; costumes, Susan Hilferty; lighting, James F. Ingalls; music, sound, David Van Tieghem; stage manager, Charles Means. NYTW artistic director, James C. Nicola.. Running time: 3 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast: Nathalie Paulding (Matryosha), Bill Camp (Nicholas Stavrogin), Boris McGiver (Shigalyov), Frank Raiter (Stepan Verkhovensky), Ray Anthony Thomas (Virginsky), Patrick Kerr (Liputin), Christopher McCann (Ivan Shatov), Denis O'Hare (Peter Verkhovensky), Kali Rocha (Dasha Shatov), James Colby (Kirilov), Lynn Cohen (Mrs. Stavrogin), Randy Danson (Mrs. Lembke), Daniel Oreskes (Josef Blum), Michael Arkin (Governor Lembke), Patrice Johnson (Marie Shatov).

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