By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The Devil's Disciple, I'm happy to report, is the best they've done since Metamorphoses, the season opener way back in July. This rarely produced 1897 comedy by George Bernard Shaw finds the Irish author giving the business to both sides in the American Revolution. He takes on the overwrought piety of the Puritans and the stupidity of the English army, along with skewering the florid style of romantic melodrama so popular in the late 19th century.
Actor Terry Vandivort has played Shaw before (in Dear Liar), and he's doing it again with great flourish here, speaking the writer's own witty stage directions at the beginning of each act. That device was added by director Rene Moreno, a brilliant stager of comedies and dramas whose very presence at Theatre Three is evidence that they're trying to do better work. Moreno has assembled the most attractive and engaging group of actors to grace this stage in many a moon, and he plays up the oomph factor by having them strike poses right off the covers of bodice-ripper romance novels.
According to Shaw, the colonies were lost because some British military bureaucrat went on vacation without sending his generals the right paperwork. The Devil's Disciple finds a New Hampshire village about to be overrun by redcoats who keep stumbling over each other.
The handsome devil from the play's title is Dick Dudgeon (played by the very Heath Ledger-esque Ashley Wood), a wealthy playboy who's the scourge of his Puritan family. When he is mistakenly arrested by the British, who think he's a rebel minister named Anderson (David Brown), Dick faces the noose unless the pastor's wife (Lynn Blackburn) testifies to his real identity. But will she? Turns out she has a bit of a thing for the bad boy. And her husband has suddenly skipped town.
After a slow first act, the second half kicks up its heels with the courtroom scene involving Dick, the preacher's wife, General Burgoyne (played with droll comedic flair by Vandivort) and Dick's idiot brother, Christy (Dan Forsythe), who's dragged in from the street to identify the man in the dock. Dick and the general finally engage in a clash of wits that shows Shaw's style at its best. The arrestee should go willingly to the gallows, says the general, as "martyrdom is the only way a man can become famous without ability."
The play ends with a happy twist that betrays the playwright's pro-American sentiments and sends the pretty heroine into the right man's arms. The Devil's Disciple is a lovely look at one of Shaw's lighter works--and devilish fun to boot.