I can add colours to the chameleon, Change shapes with Proteus for advantages, and set the murderous Machiavel to school. Can I do this, and cannot get a crown? Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.–Richard III
Patrick Page’s solo show is a straightforward performance piece of Shakespearean monologues and scenes, in largely chronological order. The Tony-nominated actor (also writer and editor here) has scrubbed off a good deal of embossed New York political trappings—I would imagine it took muriatic acid—and what remains is an unhacked compilation, with commentary, of the Bard’s villains (including the words of Lady Macbeth), almost in a 19th century arrangement: a matinee star, howling wind, and low lights and fog (the sound design is by Darron L. West and the lighting design comes from Stacey Derosier). Page might act the roles in a different manner, should be actually be playing them in specific productions–and he’d no doubt have less quick changes and props–but here he is the consummate pro. The direction is by Simon Godwin, who probably has a taste for such shadow realms, having once presented a Measure for Measure, which included a tour through a sex club that would make de Sade blush.
Page calls the presentation a séance, and the mood may remind of a setup not only for the swan of Avon but also for a Sweeney Todd or Roderick Usher. Choosing the Halloween season to start All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain is right—and it does not hurt that students might have a chance to see the actor during the school year, while they still may be quizzed and tested for the semester (the title of the play is a quote from The Tempest). The actor is the son of an arts educator, who played at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and he grew up exposed to and reveling in the Bard’s language. That works for today’s learners, too—and Page knows it. His first gig for his show was in front of a thousand high schoolers—and the writing held them: less texting, boredom down. The show runs at the DR2 Theatre until February (a convenient venue, near the subway, at 103 East 15th Street), but the evening will still be viable as long as the dead walk the earth. He probably knows that too.
Here is an incomplete list of the dramas Page uses to create real, if often flawed, characters: Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, The Tempest. Page has done reading on psychopaths and examined the behavior of those in his own life to enable his artistic creations: there’s no surprise that characters who have crossed to the dark side are usually more complicated, and fun, than heroes without warts. What’s surprising is Page’s idea that, in breaking stereotypes, writing such roles may have changed the kinds of parts Shakespeare wrote: they help reveal why the Bard’s evolution looks the way it does, and maybe they changed the dramatist himself.
The red and black stage design, with a skull and large book of Shakespeare’s plays, is by Arnulfo Maldonado, and the entrance music, for the catalog, is almost every “devil” song you’ve ever heard, from The Charlie Daniels Band to The Rolling Stones. At the end of the evening, the actor ritualistically cleanses the internal and external space where his villains have come to life—he says the twirling helped when acting in the doomed Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. But the play, like Macbeth (or so the theatre legend goes), needs such purification. Whether it can also help students pass a random and gnarly exam may require further study—but it probably couldn’t hurt. And older generations will be informed and entertained as well.
© by Bob Shuman. Photo by Julieta Cervantes. All rights reserved.
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Run time is approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.