A Devil Inside
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 27, 2008
The line separating reality and dreams is blurred in David Lindsay-Abaire's A Devil Inside and accordingly Wide Eyed Productions blurs the line between realistic acting and a style that is way over the top and, for the most part, this works for them. I could clearly see what this outlandish style added to the show, however I had to wonder what it may have taken away.
Lindsay-Abaire's plot is a ridiculously tangled web in which everyone and practically every event, past and present, is connected. A laundromat owner who wears a sash of sad mementos demands that her 21 year-old son avenge the murder of his father while a nihilistic Russian Literature professor plots the death of a "dull" repairman who sees a laughing devil in the patterns on the wallpaper. Meanwhile a giddy student in love with the professor attempts to seduce him while his foot-loving ex-wife tries to locate an old memento that is her luckiest charm. This is really just the starting point—from here so many plot points unfold that it's like watching an origami swan being deconstructed.
Lindsay-Abaire's script is very funny though not everyone will think so because it is so very quirky. I love his humor. It reminds me of the type of humor that you'd find on TV shows like Arrested Development. His characters are bizarre and their actions and motivations are unpredictable. He plants what appear to be symbols throughout the story—such as severed feet and dismal mementos—but they don't have any real connections to anything. Dreams become reality and reality dreams as every mention of an event, no matter how much you may think it's just a joke, turns out to be true. I also really enjoyed the parallels he draws from Russian novels such as Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina.
Director Justin Ness makes a bold decision to push his cast into an outrageous style. Practically every line is spoken with climactic passion or eccentric flamboyance. Many moments are funny because of the manner in which they are played and not so much because of the script. The acting style certainly adds to the show but there are many points in which the movement is as stylized as the acting and that doesn't work as well for Ness. Also, I couldn't help but wonder what the show would have been like had the actors played it straight.
The cast turns in a great performance. Kristin Skye Hoffman is good as the crazy laundry lady, as is Sage Seals playing the balding 21 year-old (so long as he keeps his stocking cap on), and Lauren Bahlman does a good job as the ex-wife who had to cut off her own foot. Liz White is hilarious as the lovelorn literature student and as the object of her love, Professor Raymonds, Andrew Harriss is equally funny and completely committed to his role. But it is Jake Paque who really takes the show with his hysterical portrayal of the repairman who slowly loses his mind as he wrestles with his imaginary devil.
This production is definitely worth a look. I laughed quite a bit. The script and the performance style go very well together and even though it doesn't all work, the humor of it all will appeal to those of you after an unusual night at the theatre.