Sly Devil

In today’s Wall Street Journal I review regional revivals of The Devil’s Disciple and Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Here’s an excerpt.

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It’s far from true that nobody does George Bernard Shaw’s plays anymore, but surprisingly few of them get done other than sporadically in this country. Take “The Devil’s Disciple,” which at one time was popular enough to have been turned into a film starring Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Laurence Olivier. The Irish Repertory Theatre gave it a splendid miniature staging in 2007, but otherwise it hasn’t received a high-profile production in the New York area since Circle in the Square’s 1988 Broadway version. Now the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, one of the top classical companies on the East Coast, has mounted a revival so entertaining that you’ll go home asking yourself why “The Devil’s Disciple” isn’t a summer-festival staple….

You need not subscribe to Shaw’s subversive anti-morality to enjoy the wit with which he chips away at the Victorian hypocrisy that was his real target. And while Paul Mullins’ staging might possibly have profited from a touch more effervescence, it lacks nothing at all in comic assurance….

10447851_10152477927443956_8726061895360716599_nNeil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” opened on Broadway in 1969, ran for 706 performances and continues to be performed to this day in regional theaters all over America. It’s never been revived on or off Broadway, though, no doubt because Mr. Simon is now thought to be a joke-spewing theatrical lightweight whose time has come and gone. Yet his best comedies, “Lost in Yonkers” foremost among them, are full of telling touches of pathos that make them more than mere applause machines. That’s what lured me up to New Hampshire to see what Gus Kaikkonen’s ever-excellent Peterborough Players would make of “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” a three-act farce about a nebbishy 47-year-old restaurateur (“The sum total of my existence is nice”) who seeks to assuage his midlife crisis by joining the sexual revolution and committing serial adultery with a jaded cynic, a ditsy nightclub singer and the sad-sack wife of one of his best friends.

Sure enough, “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” proves to be both very funny and genuinely touching, and Mr. Kaikkonen, a superior director who is at home with an unusually wide range of theatrical styles, takes care to give both sides of the dramatic coin their due. Yes, the punch lines connect, but they’re played for truth, not laughs, which makes them even funnier. Moreover, this revival features a dazzling new twist: The three women are played by the same actor, Beverly Ward, whose characterizations are so boldly varied and unfailingly convincing that you’ll wonder whether it’s really her up there in all three acts….

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To read my review of The Devil’s Disciple, go here.

To read my review of Last of the Red Hot Lovers, go here.

The 1959 film of The Devil’s Disciple, starring Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, and Laurence Olivier, freely adapted from Shaw’s play by John Dighton and Roland Kibbee and directed by Guy Hamilton. The score is by Richard Rodney Bennett:

An excerpt from the 1972 film of The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, directed by Gene Saks and starring Alan Arkin and Sally Kellerman. Their roles were created on stage by James Coco and Linda Lavin:

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