Chicago Theatre Review
The Sacrificial Lamb
The Devil’s Disciple – Shaw Chicago
This was George Bernard Shaw’s eighth play and, following an 1897 American opening, the first of his productions that was considered a financial success. The joy of this particular production is, as in everything Bob Scogin touches, a beautifully staged readers theatre presentation. Once again audiences will be being treated to a captivating story with lots of humor, a bit of drama and delectable dialogue, and featuring a cast of quirky characters in unusual situations—all created by one of theatre’s finest, most renowned playwrights.
Set in colonial Westerbridge, New Hampshire, during the Fall of 1777 during the Saratoga Campaign of the Revolutionary War, Shaw’s comedy tells the story of a rebellious young American rogue named Dick Dudgeon. The estranged black sheep of his family, Dudgeon has returned to his childhood home at the invitation of Lawyer Hawkins to join his family for the reading of his father’s will.
No one is particularly pleased to see him, except for Essie, the illegitimate daughter of his Uncle Peter. Dick’s mother is unabashedly appalled at his presence. His younger brother Christy refuses to even accept Dick as his rebellious brother. The family’s Protestant minister, the Reverend Anthony Anderson and his lovely wife Judith are both shocked when Dick shows up, but they’re at least somewhat courteous. The wayward son has proclaimed himself to be a rebel against the British and he calls his family and friends a group of cowering sheep. When Lawyer Hawkins reveals to the assembled that Dick’s father changed his will during his final hours, leaving the bulk of his fortune to his son, it sends Mrs. Dudgeon into a state of illness, from which she never recovers.
Dick visits Anthony Anderson’s home, at the Reverend’s invitation. After the pastor’s called away to Mrs. Dudgeon’s deathbed, Dick stays on for tea with Mrs. Anderson. Suddenly, through the door bursts an English Sergeant and his British guard who’ve been instructed to arrest Reverend Anderson. They assume Dick is the man they’re looking for and, when he doesn’t deny it, Dudgeon is taken away in handcuffs. By not confessing his identity, and making Judith promise not to say anything to the contrary, he nobly goes off with the soldiers as a sacrificial lamb, thus saving the real Reverend Anderson’s life. What takes place on the gallows in the final, climactic moments has to be seen and heard to be fully appreciated. The play ends in an atypical, yet appropriately Shavian resolution that might be considered a happily-ever-after ending.
Once again Mr. Scogin has assembled an accomplished group of theatre artists to tell this delightful story. Gary Alexander is smashing as the cynical savior, Dick Dudgeon. He relishes and recites all the wit and wisdom of Shaw’s dialogue, emphasizing and enjoying every nuance of the character. Other ShawChicago favorites, Doug MacKechnie is a kindly and courageous Reverend Anderson and the lovely and talented Barbara Zahora portrays his faithful wife Judith with appropriate conflict and confusion. She becomes easily charmed by the swaggering Dick Dudgeon and does a 180 degree turn, from animosity to admiration.
The always magnificent Kate Young creates a memorably irascible Mrs. Dudgeon, whose ill-temper and condescension toward her wayward son dominates Act I. Matt Penn finds the subtle humor in General Burgoyne, as well as the character’s requisite absolute authority over his men. Penn’s upper class British dialect is topnotch and his body language is perfection. Jonathan Nichols makes an excellent, comical Major Swindon and Charls Sedgwick Hall is the perfect military yes man for these two English commanders. The cast is completed with the handsome, talented Matt Gall as the easily-offended young Christy Dudgeon, Jack Hickey as the officious and kindly Lawyer Hawkins and lovely newcomer Natara Easter as adulating young Essie.
True to the mission of ShawChicago, this delightful, highly entertaining play, which comes in at just two hours, including intermission, is a symphony of sound for the human voice. Although the company promises no flashy scenery, special effects, props and just barely the suggestion of costumes, this production is an auditory treat for thinking audiences. Once again, Bob Scoggin demonstrates with this wonderful, terrifically talented cast why productions by ShawChicago are the best-kept secrets around.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 14-November 6 by ShawChicago at the Ruth Page Center, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office the day of show, calling 312-587-7390 and by going to http://bit.ly/DevilsDisciple
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.