By Tulis McCall
Prior to seeing this show I would have told you that I am tired of Shakespeare. Damn tired. It is the same old same old. Tragedies are filled with doofuses who KNOW they should not go down such and such a path, but they do. And talk to us while they are doing it. They talk a lot. Comedies are filled with women who change their identity to the male persuasion with the simple donning of a cap. Just once I want to see Desdemona clobber Othello. I have even flirted with the idea of doing a show about an audience member who flips her noodle and interrupts characters about to make a blunder.
Enough of that.
After seeing Patrick Page in All The Devils Are Here I have re-visited my prejudice and now believe that most of the Shakespeare I have seen have been warmed over meals that even on a good day fail to satisfy.
Mr. Page carries the mantel of Shakespeare with a devotion that is both logical and passionate. Within minutes of his entrance, we have caught the bug as well. We accept the invitation to board Page’s wagon train and head off for parts unknown. We are powerless to resist – and that is kind of the point of theatre, is it not?
Mr. Page devours this script, both the exposition and the excerpts from select plays, as if he were a man deprived of food for a fortnight. He is ravenous and at the same time tempered because he knows that were he to consume the text too quickly it would be unsatisfying both to him and us..
Page shares some of his scholarly research – which has been ongoing for years – with us as a way to ease us into his premise – that Shakespeare created villains who were three dimensional. When he began his writing he was surrounded by theatre that consisted of Morality Plays in which someone was tempted to stray from God by a character called The Vice who was not so much a person as a representation of sins such as Greed, Lust, Covetousness etc. As a young boy Shakespear would have seen these plays as they came through Stratford Upon Avon where is father was the High Bailiff whose many duties included being the official contact person for the actors. Shakespeare would have been privy to the comings and going and most probably would have been at the theatre himself.
How he went from studying the various Vice characters to creating three dimensional villains – who knows how. But Page is here to take us on the journey. Since Shakespeare, every villain has her or his roots in Shakespeare right up to the present day – Claire Underwood in “House of Cards” – Lady Macbeth; her husband Frank – Richard III; “Succession’s” Logan Roy – King Lear; Scar in “The Lion King” – on Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius, and Tony Soprano traces his lineage to Macbeth. Page points out that every iteration of Star Trek or Star Wars includes villains that are as complicated, if not more so, than the good guys.
No only that, but if we look around today Page tells us: “record numbers of us are more inclined than ever to believe that our ideological opponents—even members of our own families—are not just misguided, but genuinely evil.
Shakespear wrote: Love, cools, friendship falls off; brothers divide; in cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason. And the bond cracked ‘twixt son and father.”
Shakepreare was not only prescient, he dove deeper into the dark side than any previous writer. He raises the villains from infancy into adulthood, and when he achieves the highest villainy with Macbeth who chooses his fate and is not a victim of circumstance – like Shylock for example – Shakespear seems to have done with the dark pit of the soul. After Macbeth he chooses lighter fare. In his final play, “The Tempest”, Prospero breaks the spell he has cast on his enemies and returns them to themselves.
Page’s narration is as engaging as his acting which is off the charts. I was enthralled the entire time. I realized I was watching a master of his craft as he moved from character to character. Othello and Iago. Malvolio discovering the forged love letter. Lady Macbeth. Richard III. Each character that Page gives us is a marvel of precision, execution and the flame of human spirit that connects us all.
This is one of those shows that should move uptown, to an intimate theatre of course, and you would do well to catch it at the Daryl Roth so that you can say, “Oh, I saw the original downtown.” And if you do get a chance to attend a performance with a talk-back by Page grab it. It is almost as fine an experience as the show. And PS I despise 99% of every talk back I have ever seen. It used to be right up there on my shit list along with Shakespeare.
Amazing how things change at the drop of the preverbal hat.
ANYONE thinking about mounting Shakepeare should be required to see this show. ANYONE.
All The Devils Are Here – created andperformed by Patrick Page; Simon Godwin (Director),
Arnulfo Maldonado (Scenic Design), Emily Rebholz (Costume Design), Stacey Derosier (Lighting Design), and Darron L West (Sound Design). All The Devils Are Here is produced by Mara Isaacs.
At the DR2 Theatre (103 E 15th Street) through January 7, 2024. TICKETS HERE