"The Devil's Disciple" by George Bernard Shaw, now up at Manhattan's Irish Reportory Theatre, while not one of his major works, offers a fine evening, indeed. The play dates to 1897 and is the only play of Shaw's to be set during the American Revolution. It's the story of one Richard Dudgeon, also known as Dick, his mother Annie, his brother Christy, his Uncle Titus, and his cousin Essie. It's set in 1777 in rural New Hampshire; the first act is in the Dudgeon home.
The rascally Dick Dudgeon, serenely self-confident, is home to hear read his dead father's new and final will, where it is revealed that he is heir to the family home. His mother rushes out in anger.
Dick is a nonconformist and that grates on his Presbyterian family -- especially his mother -- and the local minister, Anthony Armstrong. Judith, the minister's wife, is appalled by the fact that Dudgeon is a nonconformist. In the second act, Judith is left alone in the Armstrong house with Dudgeon, while her husband rushes out to attend to Mrs. Dudgeon on her deathbed. Richard remarks that if anyone were to enter the house and see the two of them at tea, they would mistake them for man and wife.
British soldiers arrive and announce that they have come for Anthony Anderson, who is to be tried as a rebel. Dick takes his place, to Judith's sudden consternation, who suddenly sees him as heroic.
The third act takes place in the courtroom, with Major Swinton and General John Burgoyne presiding over Dick's trial. When Dick asks "Gentleman Johnny" to be shot as a soldier rather than hung as a traitor, Burgoyne counters, "Have you any idea of the average marksmanship of the army of King George the Third?" prompting the biggest laugh of the evening.
There is much to enjoy about this play -- for one, the staging by Tony Walton is remarkable. Shaw's wit shines through the entire performance. The settings are sparse and convincing, and good use is made of the Irish Rep's dual-sided stage. Rebecca Lustig's costumes add much to the play's period feel. The musical sound-effects provide additional authenticity.
Acting by Curzon Dobell (Anderson), Jenny Fellner (Judith), Lorenzo Pisoni (Dick), Craig Pattison (dual role as Christy Dudgeon and the Executioner), Darcy Pulliam (Mrs. Dudgeon), Robert Sedgewick (Swindon) and John Windstor-Cunningham (Burgoyne) was crisp throughout.
This play has been revived on Broadway, the last being in 1998-89. Don't wait the requisite years for the next revival. This one is outstanding, and closes Feb. 10th.
Culture Editor, TheWildGeese.com