Clive Barker's History of the Devil

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There is a place where wretched souls from many walks of life huddle in darkness as minutes stretch into eternity and malignant spirits apply grotesque methods of torture. No, it’s not Christian Hell, but the 14th Street Y during any performance of Clive Barker’s History of the Devil. A grisly trifecta—bad acting, no apparent direction and a problematic script—damns watchers of this theological courtroom drama to everlasting torment, by which I mean two hours without intermission. Barker’s time-hopping 1980 fantasia predates his breakthrough Books of Blood and Hellraiser and is well suited to radio (there is a 1999 audio version) or perhaps a Syfy flick, but falls flat onstage. The Devil (Victoria Rae Sook) is put on trial for crimes against humanity on the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya. Witness testimony for the prosecution and the defense conjures up vignettes from past centuries, with Old Scratch corrupting or tempting folks from 13th-century-B.C. Russia to A.D.-18th-century England. Barker’s sprawling four-act pageant evokes Monty Python, George Bernard Shaw and even the metaphysics of Milton, but only a crew of amazing comic performers could pull off its whiplash changes from camp satire to cosmic tragedy. These actors, all 13 of them, are not up to the task. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many varieties of bad acting in one room: mush-mouth diction, inept blocking, hammy hysterics and dead-behind-the-eyes zombie delivery. You’ll wonder if you’ve walked into a cult meeting where members are drugged and forced to play out absurdist skits penned by a deranged leader. It took two directors, Lucia Bellini and Joshua Young, to make this amateur mess. Had there been a third, audience members might actually have died. Satan must be proud.—David Cote

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