“The Devil’s Disciple” is beautifully acted. That’s the most obvious thing about this production by Washington Stage Guild. They also deserve a shoutout for creating five different backgrounds for the scenes. This is a play with five separate settings which is not always easy to do in real life, much less a virtual environment. They help ground the show, as does the 30-second or so “blackout” in between scenes. It was nice to see that transition utilized in a virtual environment.
…beautifully acted…Matthew Castleman…commands every scene he is in.
The play itself is a meditation on what it means to be a moral person versus one that simply gives lip service to moral ideals. Richard Dudgeon (a wonderfully commanding Matthew Castleman) is the black sheep of the family. He proclaims himself the devil’s disciple due to his forging a path that doesn’t include praying to God or attending church or giving a fig about any of the socially-accepted trappings of being “good.”
The action is set off by the arrival of an illegitimate girl into the family, Essie (a luminescent Billie Krishawn). Richard’s mother, Mrs. Dudgeon (Helen Hedman, the living embodiment of anger and bitterness), is doing her Christian duty and taking her in, despite her stained past. Mrs. Dudgeon’s husband has died and the family has come together for the reading of the will. This includes her younger son, Christopher (Jamie Smithson, known as Christy), and her sons’ two uncles, William (Scott McCormick, who also plays the Sergeant) and Titus (Frank Britton, who also plays Major Swindon). The Reverend Anderson (Steven Carpenter) and his much younger wife, Judith (Joy Jones), are also present. Rounding out this family moment is the lawyer, Hawkins (Stan Kang, who also plays the Reverend Brudenell).
Mrs. Dudgeon may have some reason for her bitterness. The house and the majority of the money has been willed to Richard, leaving her a pound a week on which to survive. It seems that she was the one who brought the money into the marriage, but as this is 1777, it automatically went under her husband’s control. Her younger son, the ditzy Christy, is left with 100 pounds as his share.
All of this is set against the backdrop of the American rebellion against the crown. With Richard’s and Christy’s Uncle Peter recently having been hung by the British in the next town over, and the news that the British are marching toward their New Hampshire town, Westerbridge, Mrs. Dudgeon hopes that Richard will be chosen to be hung as a way to cow the townspeople.
It is actually the Reverend Anderson who is in danger. In a set-up one can see coming a mile away, he has requested Richard’s presence at his home and insisted his wife serve tea. He then gets word that Mrs. Dudgeon , who has retired to Titus’s house, has been taken ill. He insists that Richard keep his wife company. Soon the British arrive and arrest Richard, believing he is Anderson. The scene is set for more discussions on the nature of good and evil in their society.
Following a night in jail, there is a truly bizarre trial. General Burgoyne (Alan Wade, who has the British peer façade down pat) presides. After an extended repartee between Richard and the British — another machination which is widely telegraphed — pretty much all’s well that end’s well, except for Mrs. Dudgeon who disappears after Act 1.
This was George Bernard Shaw’s first financial success when it opened in New York in 1897. With its overtones of Shakespeare’s farces, its fools and cloaked identities, the melodrama, the innocent bystander, and two star-crossed lovers which, frankly, came out of nowhere, it is a pleasant diversion of a play not often produced.
The cast is simply wonderful. As the British soldiers, Scott McCormick and Frank Britton come into their own in the latter acts and are perfect parodies of British commissioned and non-commissioned officers.
But it is Matthew Castleman who is the linchpin of this show. His pronouncements are said with such conviction, and yet understated, that he commands every scene he is in. His deep, resonant voice is put to full good use in this production.
The play is directed by Laura Giannarelli and the finished product is pretty seamless in its transitions and the entering and exiting of characters.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
“The Devil’s Disciple” runs through March 21, 2021 at 8 p.m. It can be viewed anytime on Washington Stage Guild’s YouTube channel. The show is free, although donations are always happily accepted. For more information, please click here.