A greeting from a sprightly spunky, British-babbling, cloth-clad commoner is the first thing you’ll experience when you walk through the theater doors at WSC Avant Bard’s The Good Devil (In Spite Of Himself) at Gunston Arts Center. This good-natured greeter turns out to be one of three characters in the creatively written and staged new play, written by Mario Baldessari and Tyler Herman, and directed by the latter. Tuesday night’s showing turned out to be a pleasant production despite the devil in the title, bringing the audience along for a wild, silly, and slapstick ride through the world of Commedia dell’Arte… (and a little bit of the Underworld).
We start somewhere in France, sometime in the late 17th century, with somewhat of a huge problem. The Spittitucci couple of Rosina and Salvatore, played by Natalie Cutcher and Matthew Aldwin McGee, respectively, are poor townsfolk who intended to put on a play… until Salvatore gambled away the money to pay the actors, who have since left in a fit of discontent. To make matters worse, Doug Wilder as the Royal Messenger enters to proclaim that the King has outlawed any dialogue on a stage. Their solution to the problem? Playing every role in the show themselves, re-writing the script as the go along, and never having more than one actor talking onstage to each other. Seem like a lot to follow? It is, but the talented cast of three at WSC Avant Bard pull it off with impeccable ease.
…bringing the audience along for a wild, silly, and slapstick ride through the world of Commedia dell’Arte… (and a little bit of the Underworld).
A key characteristic of the Commedia dell’Arte style is the exaggerated qualities of the physicality and vocalizations of each character. Therefore, the actors were faced with the supreme balancing act of creating and maintaining a very specific, over-emphasized persona for each character, as they all played multiple. They excelled in this respect. Natalie Cutcher, playing Rosina, Isidore, and Colombina captured the audience with her impressive vocal control and hilarious personalities, while Matthew Aldwin McGee seized each opportunity in his roles of Salvatore, Pantaloon, Lelio, and Il Dottore to display his impressive comedic timing. Doug Wilder had the daunting task of playing the Devil, and made the well-known icon his own, with snide speech and easy nonchalance. All three actors also occasionally burst into song (to avoid breaking the “no dialogue onstage” law), proving themselves to be skilled musical actors as well.
The set, designed by Brian Gillick, was an appropriately simple courtyard, until an unexpected plot twist brings the characters to the gates of hell. The set transforms with fire and a swinging gate, proving that simplistic design elements can be extremely effective. Lighting Designer Jason Aufdem-Brinke matched Gillick’s no-nonsense approach, keeping lighting consistent until the fun twist at the end of the plot as well, filling the fiery set with purple and red lighting. A highlight of the production came from the efforts of Costume Designer Lynly Saunders, who made each of the many character quick changes simple with bright costume pieces, wigs, and hats.
It’s a daunting script, with so many elements that many could fall short of effectively sharing the true fun in the piece with the audience, but this was not the case with WSC Avant Bard’s production of The Good Devil (In Spite of Himself). A multi-talented set of actors and just the right amount of technical elements make following this complex new play a breeze, and a really good time at that.
Running Time: 95 minutes, no intermission.
Advisory: Some mature content, recommended for 14 and up.
The Good Devil (In Spite of Himself) plays at Gunston Arts Center Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206 through July 17, 2016. Buy tickets online or call 703-418-4808.